Monday, October 31, 2011

New beginnings

This building has been sitting on my workbench for quite awhile. I was thinking of using it as a photo prop while I was taking the Hot Wheels pictures last summer – but the idea drifted away and it continued to sit there. However, it did kick-off some meandering thoughts about finishing it. And after awhile, looking for a little lightweight diversion, I started to pick at it and do a little here and a little there. Finally it started to come together into something interesting.

Before painting the building I washed it thoroughly with soap and water. Debra saw it drying by the kitchen sink and wondered why a mouse had nibbled on the walls. Well, it does kinda look like some hungry rodent mistook it for stale cheese!

Once dry, the actual painting I did on this building is much simpler than that shown on the box – I had to take into account my limited skills and patience with this project. I first painted all the walls with hull red, the doors green, and the roof a loose mixture of light and dark gray. Once the walls were dry I glopped on white paint and then wiped off most of it before it dried in order to just fill the mortar lines. Once they had dried, I dry brushed a little brown and rust on the bricks to provide a little colour variation. Then things got a little ragged. I proceeded to put on successive layers of loose mixtures of browns, grays and black to add weathering and depth. I stopped when I got to a point that seemed ok to me.

After all that the roof still didn’t look quite right to me. Some toy solar panels I had on the shelf above the work bench caught my eye and seemed to fit well on the non-bombed out section of roof tiles, so on they went. The windmill came in the same set as the solar panels and seemed to be a fit for the addition. I then rummaged through my stash of left-over detail items to see if anything else might fit this scene. I added a ladder to get up on the roof to maintain the solar panels and windmill. And inside I added an Airstream trailer for the home of the new resident. The walls and roof of the brick building act as something of a pre-buffer against the elements.

Even though it isn’t HO-scale it doesn’t look out-of-place on the new layout. I’m trying out different locations amongst the E. L. Moore buildings and it seems to fit in just fine.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Miniatur Wunderland

A few weeks ago Debra went to Munich on a business trip. Among other things it got us to talking again about visiting the Miniatur Wunderland attraction in Hamburg. It's another place on our wish list of places to visit one day, but in the meantime the promotional video makes for a good 5 minute trip. I first heard about the Wunderland in the the spring from a friend who forwarded me a link to a video of its model of an international airport. It's incredible and I figured I wouldn't be doing the Wunderland justice without showing it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Boston & Maine on Regional Contact

After finding videos of the Madder Valley Railway and the Pendon Museum on YouTube I dug around to see what else I might find there. As luck may have it, I found these two videos of the Ottawa tv show Regional Contact's profile of Mike Hamer's Boston & Maine model railroad. I had the opportunity to meet Mike around a year-and-a-half ago, and he generously gave me an extensive tour of his layout and workshop. It's an excellent layout, and this show just gives a taste of the whole operation.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Will it go round in circles?

Will it go round in circles? Yeap, it will – and on a modified dog-bone track to boot . Ok. Well. This is the first song that jumped out of my radio early Monday morning as soon as I started my car. A great way to begin the work week. An even better way to end it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Puzzle city

I decided to build the city section like a jigsaw puzzle. There are two types of pieces: 1) buildings on bases that aren’t glued to the board; and 2) landscape pieces that are glued down and butt against the building bases to hold them in place. For transport, the buildings can be removed so they don’t get damaged. The landscape pieces are held in place with rubber cement so that if I want to change the arrangement I can peel them from the board fairly easily. On the other hand, all the plastic track inserts used to make the snap track look like it’s embedded in concrete are superglued in place after some sanding and fitting to make sure they don’t interfere with the operation of rolling stock.

After looking at the evolving urban area on the left, and the Moore-ian country area on the right, I realized the train board was developing what one of my old painting instructors called ‘a two-ness’. This was a term she applied to paintings that had two objects front and centre without any connection to each other or other visual elements– it makes the painting look un-unified. Since I also need a program track for the DCC system, I plan on running a track from the right-side industrial area into the centre, ending close to the urban area. Along with the ocean front, scene transitions, and some careful placing of the track inserts in the straight section of the main loop, the passing siding and the new central straight, I think this additional track section will help join things up into a unified whole. This new track section will also create a switching problem which may add to operational interest: it’ll take two short locos to move cars into the central straight section. Certainly not prototypical, but it should add to the game play aspect.

[I’m cannibalizing the old layout for parts. I plan to salvage as many as possible and then disassemble the train board. I’m going to modify its wheeled stand a little so it can be used as a stand for the new layout when it’s in the basement since it won’t be permanently living upstairs. It’s sad to see the old layout go, but I’m liking the way the new one is developing. This blog was named because the old layout measures 6 x 5 feet and had 30 square feet of train space for what I then imagined was going to be a layout situated in Ontario – well, at least have many visible characteristics I associate with Ontario. Hence, the ’30 Squares of Ontario’ name for this blog. Maybe I’ll need to rename it. Maybe I’ll just keep it as a relic.]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cloud Blimps

{Passing Cloud sourced from}

Any article that touches on both trains and airships is sure to get my attention. I stumbled across this one last week at It was designed by Tiago Barros as an entry for the "Life at the Speed of Rail" competition. One might question the practicality of a vehicle that floats along wherever the wind blows it with all its passengers sitting on top, but I admire the out-of-the-box thinking.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Street car track beginnings

I've started to place some buildings and begin the actual work of railroad building. I began with the urban area and simply used the spur on the left side as the place to begin. I did a lot of experimenting with different configurations, and eventually settled on that shown in the photos.

The street insets in the track are plastic items from Walthers. I bought them sometime ago and used a few to build the urban area surrounding the old Scarboro Square. I salvaged what I could from the old layout and supplemented with the leftovers I had on hand.

I made a few modifications to some building bases in order to get things compactly placed. I cut the parking lot off Scarboro Square Station, and Grille's base was squared up. I wanted all the building bases to be level with the street insets in the track. This meant using 0.080 inch styrene to boost all the bases. This gives a nice level and contiguous surface.

This work is quite interesting, but is progressing slowly since I'm spending a lot of time adding details as I go and thinking and playing with ideas for this and the other parts of the layout.

Friday, October 21, 2011

(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding

Early one morning on the drive to work this week I heard the Elvis Costello version of (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding on the radio. I hadn’t heard it in a very long time, and it sounded as great as always.

For some reason, when it finished, Train in Vain by The Clash popped into my mind. A browse through YouTube found what looks like this bootlegged video:

Further browsing dug up the later cover version by Annie Lennox. It’s on her Medusa album and I’d highly recommend it. It’s all covers, but I never found myself saying the originals were done better.

Ok, I admit the link to trains is tenuous, but ending the week with a little good music is hard to knock.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The part that got away

Two years ago I had to replace my old, weather-beaten pumphouse – well, pumphouse is a rather regal term for what amounts to a big box that shelters a pump from the elements. After lots of humming and hawing and cogitating about what to replace it with, I finally settled on simply buying a small RubberMaid outdoor storage shed kit, cutting out the floor, and popping the whole thing, kit-and-kaboodle, over top of the pump on the foundation where the previous pumphouse stood (and if my wife is reading this, it should be noted that she did play a big role in figuring out which of the many shed kits that are on the market to buy when I couldn’t make up my mind ). It worked like a charm and has been through two winters so far. It still looks and works as good as new.

And after those two winters I still had the section of floor I cut out stashed in my junk pile.

Well, this last summer I finally realized that my junk pile was going on forty years old, and was starting to make our place look like a candidate for an episode of Hoarders! I separated out some useable stuff, and carted the rest off to the junk-yard (10 trips and 3 Saturday mornings in all with our poor cars stuffed to the gills with ratty old junk).

My regret is that I took the floor section on one of those fateful trips and I have it no more.

Even though I was hauling junk to the dump I was also thinking about how to build the base for the layout. That scrap floor section was speaking to me. It was light. It was rigid. It had lots of interstitial spaces for plumbing wires through. It was plastic. All good things. But it wasn’t completely flat – if it was a piece of wood for sale in a store, I would have put it back on the shelf and selected another. In this case it went to the dump. My mistake. I now think I could have reworked it a bit to make it a little flatter, and maybe useable.

I obviously used a more traditional approach to building the layout base. It’s got the flatness and rigidity I want, but it weighs more than I’d like. Weighs way more. In retrospect, I’d try an experiment where the upper surface of the train board would still be made of 2-inch thick high density construction foam board, but the lower box frame used for stiffening and wiring infrastructure would be something like the floor scrap from the pumphouse.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Layout construction scrapbook 2

{The basic box frame has a centre beam - as shown in the photo- and a shorter one perpendicular to it that is shown in some later photos. Again, the frame isn't warped as it appears in the photo. It's a distortion of the lens.}

{On the bottom I attached a piece of 1/2 inch particle board to improve rigidity and help keep the frame straight and true. However, it increases the weight of the board a lot. In a later post I plan to give a weight breakdown of the whole board, and show some areas where improvements can be made in future builds - live and learn :-) }

{I attached the hardboard substrate to the pine frame with 3/4 inch screws. Also, a number of holes were drilled into the frame for snaking wires through.}

{Almost all the substrate boards are attached.}

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Layout construction scrapbook

{I was totally old-school in layout planning. No fancy CAD programs, just laying out track on the back patio trying out ideas that seemed good.}

A few pictures from the construction of the layout board.

{After a while my back kept suggesting that I should work on the layout plans on the deck where I wouldn't have to bend over as much :-) I also worked on fixing the deck this past summer and it was partially finished when I took this picture.}

{That's the main frame leaning against the wall. It's made from 1x3 pine - as straight as I could find at the local home reno store.}

{The substrate is made from 1/4 inch hardboard. I used 4, 2x4 foot pieces mainly because they would fit in my car and a whole 4x8 sheet wouldn't.}

{This is an initial test fit of the frame and substrate pieces to make sure things were shaping up properly. The frame doesn't actually have a weird warp in it, my garage floor is far from level!}

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lost Ocean Line?

I’m trying to shield this little project from creeping ‘job-ism’ with milestones and deadlines and such, so I’ve been mellowing out a bit on it and have instead been thinking about a name for the railroad. In the spirit of names like Gorre & Daphetid, and Enskale & Hoentee, my current candidate is Lost Ocean Line, or LOL for short. Ok. I’ll meditate on that for awhile :-)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Painted, tracked and powered

[I worked on these tasks in the backyard since the weather was good. This picture shows the track just before I set to gluing it down. The board itself was spray painted with a variety of Krylon Latex colours. The track is mainly Atlas. The circular arc switch is a Peco item that was on sale at the local hobby store a few months back - I'm fascinated with curved switches so I bought it and figured I'd work it in somehow.]

As the title says, I finished painting the board (mainly to get rid of the pink foam colour), glued down the track, and installed the DCC system. The next task is cleaning up the workshop and getting ready for the next steps.

[This picture was taken just after taking a couple of laps of a test run of the DCC system. I bought a simple MRC Prodigy Express system. Works well.]

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Pendon Museum via YouTube

While I was in the process of putting together yesterday's post about the Madder Valley RR, I came across these other two excellent videos of the model railways at the Pendon Museum - the home of the Madder Valley RR - in England. The first has a little more footage of the Madder Valley along with a highly enjoyable B&W film shot by the narrator in the '60s(?). It also goes into other layouts at the museum, but that mainly is the focus of part 2. The layouts of Pendon are odes to English village life in the 1930s. There's great stuff here and hopefully one day I'll have the opportunity to see them in person.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A lesson from the Madder Valley RR?

I struggled a bit figuring out where to place the Madder Valley in the Museum / Gallery / Studio diagram. I think it goes in the Museum / Gallery overlap, but since it is after all now on display in a museum (and is a model of railroad operation), I weaselled out and placed it right on the Museum / Gallery boundary in the museum side. One thing that I think identifies this landmark layout as Gallery is, as the narrator points out, for Mr. Ahern doing what he wanted over-rode conventional consistency - for example, running locomotives he liked if they fit on the track and not worrying if they were a different scale.

And all this Venn diagram stuff aside, this is a fun video, especially the scenes going down the track taken from the front of the train.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Museum and gallery and studio

My inner nerd likes to classify things, so I made this Venn diagram, in the style of those in Indexed, to show where my thinking is on this whole Museum and Gallery thing. I introduced a new subset, Studio, for objects that have some resemblance to model railroads, but aren’t, and don’t feature actual running trains. I think members of the Studio subset are mainly art objects. I put the Brugel-Bosch Bus in this group. It’s clearly art. It has tracks and trains. But they don’t operate. It’s not hard to imagine that they could be made operational, but that would change the nature of the entire piece.

I’ve only indicated placement of model railroads that I’ve touched on in this blog, so it’s in no way complete, and probably very debatable anyway

Classification schemes are ultimately a losing game, and thinking too much about them usually degenerates into arguments about what goes where; what’s in and what’s out; categories to include and exclude. The list of problems is endless. All schemes have to be worn lightly to get the most out of them, and if not, discarded.

18 Oct update: I noticed today that the Boston & Maine arrow doesn't reach into the Museum area, which it should, so to reiterate, the Boston & Maine should be a part of Museum.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mobile garden rail car

I recently came across this - what looks like - a transit rail car chopped down to a garden on a flat car designed by Joe Baldwin at treehugger. There's lots of negative comments about whether or not it's eco-friendly and such, but, either way, it's an interesting rail car.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Channeling the spirit of the The Enskale & Hoentee RR

[Ok, I got back to work and trimmed the foam back to the perimeter of the hardboard substrate and smoothed its edges with sanding blocks. Although it can be carried by one person, it takes two to safely turn it over. Thankfully Debra didn't mind helping me. Next step for the weekend is painting, laying the track, and getting the DCC installed.]
I knew that E. L. Moore had written an article (maybe even articles) on how to build an entire - but small - model railroad, and since I’m doing the same thing I tried to find out what he did. One thing I found out was that Mr. Moore published a three-part model railroad construction article in Railroad Model Craftsman called The Enskale & Hoentee RR, with the first part appearing in the October ’68 issue. Basically, the series explained how to build a small – 30 inch x 30 inch – N-scale railroad running through mountain scenery. Well, it wasn’t purely N-scale, it could also run HOn21/2 equipment (which uses N-scale track), and was populated with TT-scale buildings as well as N-scale ones, hence the railroad’s name. Also, in true Moore-ian fashion the cost to build it was low – Mr. Moore stated it could be built for around $50 in 1968, which is about equivalent to $325 today – and only required 2 ‘unhurried’ months to construct.
That first article in October started off with a little statement from Mr. Moore about his reasons for building this charming little railroad:

And on my pike, as though a mixture of N, TT and HOn21/2 wasn’t enough, we have a horse and wagon era into which contemporary rolling stock intrudes: and had that little beauty, Rapido’s old time gaily painted locomotive been available at the moment I bought my motive power, you might have seen a further scrambling of time. You can put me down as an opportunist rather than a purist.

As it stands. mine is purely a subsidized railroad, makes no pretence of industries nor is it scouting for any. Tourists, maybe, since it is little more than a scenic park railroad. True, there is an outside curve on the southwest corner where a mine structure could rear its ugly head and be placed extending over the track - could, but never will. For when I dropped my tools and picked up my camera I was through! No matter what writers and editors say about a railroad never being completed, this one is!

You might wonder why I built such a small pike in the first place, when the bigger they come the harder you fall for them. And frankly it was because I was suddenly smitten by this petite little N scale, and then too I wanted to see if my old love affair with HO might be rekindled to include N in a bigamous union. And too, I wanted to try my hand at scenery again; and being both too old and too lazy to put forth any great amount of effort, I confined myself to as small a pike as I thought practical.

This, of course, is strictly a pike for beginners or others who do not take their railroading too seriously; who are content just to own and run a couple of engines and a handful of cars, but still want something at which they can point with pride. Anyone can build this little pike, but if scenery happens to be your dish it can be made quite spectacular for so small a layout. If it doesn’t disillusion you too much, look at it this way. Just how much railroading would you expect from a space 400’ x 400’, or an area scarcely larger than a city block, and with less than half a mile of track? For, as I said, it is little more than a scenic park railroad. But somehow, as you look at it and the little train comes ‘round the mountain you sorta forget that aspect and your imagination takes over.

I can’t imagine an article like this being published today in the mainstream model railroading press, although it sort of fits with today’s micro-layout movement. I admire its good-natured stance and forthrightness in building something that seemed interesting to the author even though it was rather unconventional. Now, the practical side of me thinks RMC may have commissioned Mr. Moore to write an article on how to build a modest model railroad that a reader in October could have more-or-less ready by Christmas (which is my goal too). He could have easily chosen to build something in a single scale on a rectangular piece of plywood as is the convention, so they may have been rather surprised with the result. Although some might not classify the The Enskale & Hoentee RR as a model railroad – and even Mr. Moore seems to back away from that saying it’s not for ‘serious’ model railroaders - but I’d simply say that it’s in the Gallery school of thought rather than Museum.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Starting to trim the foam top

I'm in the process of trimming the foam-board top to its final shape. I did some work last week, but we were away on the weekend, so no progress beyond that was made. Yikes! I gotta put the pedal-to-the-metal. Only 2 months left and I want to have something decent built up by the Christmas holidays.