Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Manual Training from the 1920’s

Last Christmas I spent some time browsing through a few of my father’s old books. I came across the ‘manual training’ textbook my grandmother had used when she was in teacher’s college, which was called ‘Normal School’ in her time . The title page indicates the book was published in 1920, and that was also the year she began her training.

From the contents of the book, it looks like Manual Training wasn’t just another name for Shop Class, although successful completion might lead a pupil there. Basically it contains lesson ideas for designing and making simple things from simple materials. Its goals are honourable and they seem to be to instill basic 1920’s era spatial, design, geometric, and construction skills in children through projects that require them to work with their hands – in today’s parlance I think we might refer to these activities as fostering rudimentary ‘Maker’ skills. Quoting from the Introduction:

The old idea that education was entirely a matter of books has now almost disappeared; and a system which appealed almost entirely to the memory is being supplemented by methods which directly appeal to the interests of the pupil and which use his own activity and observation in the training process.

That statement sounds like it could have been written last week. Here’s a little more on what the authors think Manual Training is:

Manual Training must not be thought of in terms of processes only; it not only gives practice in doing, making, and originating; but, if properly undertaken, it is capable of being made to assist in the mental, manual, and social development of the pupil.

The lessons are graduated to take pupils from ‘Form I’ to ‘Form IV’. I’m not sure what modern-day grade levels these correspond to, maybe something in the primary grades from the looks of the projects.

One part in particular that caught my eye was a page in the Form II: Cardboard Construction section that featured two photos of town dioramas whose buildings were made from cardboard, nestled in simple scenery, and placed on small tables for display. They are quite charming.

{This newspaper clipping was folded into the book. I don't know what paper it's from or when it was published.}

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mr. Scott’s: Finishing

Mr. Scott’s has been staring at me with a nasty look to get it finished. I had set it aside on the workbench while I worked away on completing the Barrel & Marble Works So, I finally took its not so subtle hints and finished it. Well, more accurately, I got it to a near completely finished state – one with window glass and view blockers. I’m still contemplating what final details are to be added.


Installing the plastic glass for windows was just a matter of cutting down the kit-supplied window stock and gluing it in place with thick superglue. Please be careful if you use superglue since it’s easy to get it on the clear surfaces given the tight inside clearances of this building. I used some spray accelerator to set it up once I had dabbed it in the places I wanted. Also, the bottom of the building needs to be propped up to let the glue fumes escape otherwise they will craze the inside surfaces of the windows. I left the bottom ventilated over night just to be sure.

I think I mentioned in some other posts that I plan on revisiting in a few months some of the buildings I’ve worked on over the past couple of years in order to add a little detail and tweek them a bit now that I’ve had a chance to look at them awhile. I think Mr. Scott’s will be in that group. Some roof details and maybe some external tanks and loading equipment might be added. I need to think about that a bit. But, for now, Mr. Scott’s is done.

Mr. Buschel’s Barrel & Marble Works

{My beginning to a fictitious article on the Barrel & Marble Works project written in a pseudo E. L. Moore style – set your editorial-way-back-machine to sometime in the 1970s}

One day last summer Debra and I drove down to Prince Edward County to have dinner at Bob’s Truffle Hut. Her friends had been telling her great things about the place, so we went to see for ourselves. What they didn’t tell us was there was this great model railroad-able feed mill right behind the Hut. Debra went in and got us a table and I wandered over to the building to take a look before the sun went down.

Turns out it wasn’t a mill anymore, but a recyclery, barrel maker and marble works that had taken up residence in the old building. Luckily the owner’s grandson was on the loading dock to tell me some history about the place.

Apparently granddad bought the abandoned mill in the early ‘70s to house his barrel making business, He was a big fan of Evel Knievel and thought that Mr. Knievel’s exploits would inspire an upsurge in motorcycle barrel jumping, and that meant there’d be a big demand for barrels. Well, with that and the new wineries springing up in the County, it looked like blue skies ahead for the barrel biz.

The barrels-for-cycle- jumping thing never panned out, but barrels for wine, or repurposed for furniture and other odd things provided some steady income over the years. Granddad rented out the west wing to a marble artisan in the late ‘90s, and a deal with the County saw the recyclery tacked on just a few years ago. The sun was getting low, so I snapped a few pictures and popped into the Hut before the truffles got cold.

The prototype mill is big. Too big for my 6 foot by 5 foot model railroad, so building a model of it was an exercise in selective compression. That is, picking out the parts I liked, and squeezing the dimensions down to something that was just the right size for the railroad, all the while trying to maintain the vibe of the structure that attracted me to it in the first place.

Also, I didn’t want to turn this into an exercise in overly specialized construction methods and micro-detailing, but something that could be built with fairly commonplace model railroading building materials, and only about 2 weeks of concentrated work.

Some styrene sheets, Campbell scale corrugated metal siding, window and door castings from Tichy Train Group, plus a few scraps of styrene tubing and balsa are just about all you’ll need materials wise. For tools, the standard X-acto knife, scale, angle, thick super glue, pen, pencil, and a tube of styrene glue will do it. Also, you’ll need some bottles of acrylic paints, a few brushes, and some water for clean-up, but no sprays or air-brushes.

Costs? Well, if you were actually able to just buy the exact amount of materials used in this project, you could build it for about $20 to $30. Turns out, if you don’t already have a small stash of materials leftover from other projects, you’ll need to buy the materials in the pre-packaged amounts they’re commonly sold in, so it’s going to cost more – around $30 to $40 - but you’re going to have leftovers for other projects. Which is probably a good thing, because once you have a small stash of materials there’s less of a hurdle when you start new projects. I’ll discuss how to save some cash as we go through the building process.

Now, a bit of a disclaimer: I was way off on the concentrated work bit – the elapsed time for the build was roughly 6 months of only working an hour here and ten-minutes there and doing other projects in between and so on. I’m sure you’re not as lazy or disorganized as I am!

…. and on with show.

{resetting the time-machine back to the 21th century……}


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Barrel & Marble Works: Painting and Finishing

This last phase of construction has been about painting and detailing.

I was complaining in the first Boneyard post about all the paints Airfix recommended - 15 in total - that one can use to paint the European Ruined Workshop. Turns out I’ve used a lot myself to paint the Barrel & Marble works: 13 if I’ve accounted correctly. Looks like I don’t pay attention to my own grumblings


All walls that were paneled with corrugated metal sheets were base coated with a thinned wash of Tamiya Neutral Grey. The wash was created by mixing the gray paint with Testors Universal Acrylic Thinner on my palette. I also dunk the brush I’m using to mix and apply the paint into some old, sludgy water I’ve used for brush cleaning to add some additional grot to the mix.

You may have noticed in some earlier photos that there were blue lines on a number of panels. I used a blue gel pen to mark up the panels prior to cutting, and I thought the base coat of paint would hide them. I was wrong. But, something interesting did happen that I hadn’t planned on. The stuff I used to thin the wash caused the blue ink to run a bit, and a little judicious scrubbing with the brush blended everything into a nice patina – well, I’m kinda partial to it anyway.

The recyclery was base coated with Tamiya Gray Green paint straight from the bottle.

{Mixing the rust coloured paint on the palette.}

I then went to work ‘rusting‘ the roof on the Barrel & Marble Works. Rust coloured paint was mixed on my palette using Testors Model Master Acryl Rust and Tamiya Deep Green with some Testers thinner thrown in. Gradually mix small amounts of the green into the rust paint until the rust paint loses its glossiness. Even when it reaches this state, I don’t like to make the mix too uniform. I like there still to be hints of loosely mixed green still visible because I like the way it looks on the model – you’ll see some green, but not large patches, just highlights here and there. The prototype has a thoroughly rusted roof; my model doesn’t replicate that intensity of redness.

{Another session of mixing the rust paint}

The recyclery roof was washed with a much thinned version of the aforementioned rust mix. I didn’t want to obliterate the base colour of the roof, just give a hint of rust and aging.

The roof over the mystery tank at the rear of the Marble Works was painted a blue colour mixed on the palette from Testors Model Master Acryl Maritime Blue and Chevy Engine Red (which looks orange too me) to give an aged, grayed blue colour. After the roof dried, it too was washed a bit with the thinned rust mix.

{No, that's not coffee - that's the gunk wash}

The corrugated metal panels – and the walls of the recyclery - were then washed with a thinned, non-uniform mix of Testors Flat Black and Tamiya Smoke. I apply this pretty liberally to the model and use tissues and a thirsty brush – one that’s a just a little damp that can absorb pools of wash if they collect along panel lines or at eves – to control the density of paint application.

The balsa wood loading docks and framing are painted with a very loose mix of the initial thinned gray wash used on the metal panels, flat black-smoke wash, and gunk wash residue from my brush cleaning jar.

All this painting and application of washes took some time. It happened over a series of days because I like to sit back and look at the results of each step for awhile to see if any corrections or additional applications need to be made before proceeding.

The sign on the recyclery is just an item printed from my computer and glued to a basswood backing. It was washed very, very lightly with a nearly dry brush that had been dipped in the gunk wash. It’s easy to overdo it and obliterate the letters, so I’d recommend erring on the side of caution and applying several very thin washes until the desired effect is achieved. This also helps prevent the backing board from warping. The recycling logo was downloaded from the internet and prepared in the same way.

I don’t yet have a good idea for the Barrel & Marble Works signage. I’ll add these later.

The roof-top pipes on the Marble Works were made from styrene tubing. The tube wall was fairly thick and had to be drilled out to thin it down to something more scale-like. I’m not sure what these pipes are meant to drain, but I mixed up some Tamiya Purple and Tamyia Yellow Green to create a sickly gray ooze that I painted on the roof at the pipe exits. These pipes could probably use a little support structure, but I think I’ll leave them be for the time being and maybe revisit that later.

I’ve mentioned in passing a few times that using the Campbell corrugated paneling and the textured plastic on the recyclery was rather un-E. L. Moore like. A more Moorian approach might have used the embossed paper method for the metal siding, and maybe scored wood for the recyclery walls. I think that if I had used those materials I couldn’t have painted the structure using the methods I did. The Moorian materials I think would have been too soft and absorbent, and may have disintegrated or warped during painting. The metal and styrene surfaces in this project can stand-up very well to repeated applications of paint, brush work, and washes, so they have at least that to recommend them even though they aren’t the most inexpensive materials to build with.

The last thing I did was add figures and props, and some plastic ‘glass’ to the windows. That’s it. I’m going to declare it done for now. There are a few buildings on the layout that I want to add a little more detail to, and I’m planning on coming back in a few months and fixing them up all at once. This one may get a little renovated then.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Museum and The Gallery?

I’m a casual reader of the model railroad press; I probably buy around a dozen magazines a year from newsstands. No subscriptions. No clear favourite either. I pick and choose from the available American and British titles on offer. One thing that is clear, there is a high degree of realism in the model work on display in those pages, and it has advanced a long way from what the magazines routinely showed in the 1970s.

The overall impression I get – assuming that the magazines cater to what the market wants – is that there is a strong desire for museum quality models, and layouts that behave, operate, and are representative of real railroads, whether present-day or historical. I know, this should be obvious – it is after all called ‘model railroading’. I’m starting to think of this as the ‘Museum’ school of model railroading.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean this in a derogatory or condescending way. This view has pushed the hobby to much higher degrees of quality and fidelity, and I think it’s also the jumping off point for other approaches. Not to mention that it’s amazing to look at.

From the post’s title you know the other pole I’m thinking about is the ‘Gallery’ school of thought. This one is harder for me to define since there aren’t any long running popular media that I can point to that consistently showcase this view. I use it as a catch-all for a more free form approach. It’s less about research and rivets, and more about expressing personal ideas you as a modeler or model railroader have. It doesn’t jettison the Museum approach, just picks and chooses whatever it needs.

I need to pull together some examples, at the very least, to clarify my own thoughts. The popular magazines show examples from time-to-time, but they don’t identify any of it as something called ‘Gallery’. It’s more seen on the web than in the press, and it’s more prevalent in older, mid-20th century magazines than today’s. Some artists practice an extreme form of Gallery: one that uses the materials of scale model building as art materials, but isn’t too concerned with model building itself as hobbyists are. Gallery is not as dominant as Museum, and it may even be on the decline – hard to tell exactly.

Anyway, these are just ramblings – I need to get back to building No doubt there are as many approaches to model building and model railroading as there are modelers and model railroaders.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Barrel & Marble Works: Finished basic construction

After paneling the roofs, all that needed to be done was to add the small tower to the Marble Works, and the delivery chute to the Barrel factory. Well, I assume it’s some sort of grain or seed delivery chute that was used when it was still a mill, but now, it’s just an unused structure. As for the tower on the Marble Works, I have no idea what that used to do. I notice that it’s got pipes protruding from it that seem to have leaked something over the years.


The delivery chute and tower are made from 0.012 inch styrene sub-structures paneled with the same Campbell metal siding used on the walls and roofs. Dimensions are completely freelanced. The delivery chute also has some balsa braces added as per the prototype.


Once these were positioned and attached to the main building complex with thick superglue, adding flashing was begun. This was a rather finicky job. Strips of 8 to 12 inch wide metal strips were cut, bent lengthwise into right-angles, and then cut to fit the various locations that needed flashing: basically, wherever metal covered planes touched each other. Again, superglue was used for bonding things into place.


I added another post to support the porch roof on the Marble Works because the span looked too long. The porch roof span on the Barrel factory also looks too long for just one corner post to support. However, the prototype photos seem to indicate that there are cables attached to its porch roof that are anchored way up on the front wall of the main building. I’ll need to figure out a way to add those to the model.


That’s it for basic assembly. I can now see the homestretch for this project! I’m moving on to painting and adding some final details.

Broilin’ at the Boneyard

A while back I mentioned that I’d try and camouflage the board-top track controls a la the example set by New WopiLand instead of moving them to a dedicated control panel. After thinking about what I had on hand, I decided to build something based on the idea of using Walther’s dumpsters as the camouflaging element. Basically, I’d cut out their bottoms and place them over the controls.

Well, as usual, I had to do a little more site preparation than I had originally thought to pull this idea together. Since the controls sit flush on the train board, I raised the surrounding area a bit with stacks of ¼ inch foamboard, and then laminated a sheet of 0.040 inch styrene to it for construction of the finished surface. I also added a new siding for bringing in car-loads of junk for recycling in the Boneyard, and adjusted the level of the Boneyard site to be roughly level with the floors of those cars.

I recently saw an ad for the Airfix European Ruined Workshop. This item is a basically a 1/76 scale model of a bombed-out building for World War II war gamers and diorama builders. Nothing really to do with trains, but I liked its look and the idea that you could look into and through it. Luckily my local hobby store had some in stock because I had an idea for using it in the developing Boneyard scene

It’s not a kit, but a one-piece resin casting of an entire building. The only parts to be attached are two window frames and a little clear plastic window ‘glass’. Other than adding those, all that it needs is painting. And the back of the box it comes in has a handy painting guide: recommending none other than 15 ! different colours of Humbrol paint.

The European Ruined Workshop is a nice piece: crisp moldings, solid construction, interesting subject – all and all it’s rather good. The down-side is cost: $28 + sales taxes + all those paints if you go for the advertising. Given my respect for E.L. Moore projects, it’s the anti-Moore as far as cost goes. Given its simplicity, something similar should be scratchbuildable for a third the cost at most, and probably less if I thought about it some more.

Ok, well, grumblings aside, the next step is to start assembling the scene.