Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Toronto's Bloor Street Viaduct circa ?

I came across this old postcard in the family files. It's hard to imagine the Bloor Street Viaduct ever so empty, but it's a great image.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Building the beach

I hummed-and-hawed a long time before getting started on the beachfront scene. I was very hesitant about cutting into the Styrofoam until one evening I simply picked up my saw and started hacking away. Although it turns out I cut a little too deep, it was easily fixed up. If you’ve got a similar task ahead of you, don’t hesitate, just get started, it’s better to make a start and deal with what happens than to wait for a magic moment when you think you can do it perfectly.

[I cut the styrofoam out in small chunks]

The beachfront shapes are formed through a trial-and-error approach of gluing small Styrofoam pieces into areas that need building up, grinding down the foam to approximate shapes with my Dremel tool, layering in wood filler and poly-fila, grinding that to shape once dry, and repeating the filling and grinding process – with a bit of sanding near the end - until the resulting shapes are to your liking.

[Here it is after all the rough cutting is finished]

[Beginning to shape the terrain with foam blocks and filler]

On the cleanliness side, I draped a plastic drop-cloth over the layout to prevent the dust and particles from messing up the other areas. I also wore a breathing mask during the grinding and sanding operations. And don’t be dumb like me and wear corduroy

[In the midst of shaping]

As I mentioned, I used tubes of wood filler and poly-fila for the shaping media. Turns out I had some partially used tubes in the workshop left over from some other projects, so I decided to use them up on this project instead of letting them go to waste. It’s sort of an expensive way to shape the terrain since new tubes from the store aren’t cheap. If you’re starting completely from scratch, I’d probably use some sort of powdered plaster mix to keep costs low if you have a lot of terrain building to do. However, if you just have a small amount as I did with this beachfront, although buying filler in tubes isn’t very cost effective, the ready-made stuff doesn’t require mixing, and the squeeze tube makes it easy to apply – can’t beat the convenience. I should also note that before applying any of this stuff to the layout, I slathered a bit on some foam scraps and let it dry to make sure it bonded solidly to the foam and didn’t eat away at it or show any other adverse chemical reactions.

In the centre section I glopped on the poly-fila a little too thick. This causes a mesh of cracks – not deep ones though – to form on the surface as it sets up and hardens. This wasn’t a big problem because my plan was to surface the shapes with sand and the cracks would be concealed in the process. Also, it takes much longer for the poly-fila, or any filler for that matter, to harden when it’s put on too thick. To help you determine if it’s hard enough for the next stages of work, you need to both press it periodically to determine its hardness, and also ascertain if it’s cool to the touch. If it is, that means it’s still setting up and not ready. If it’s at room temperature it’s ok. I had to leave the thickest portions for 4 or 5 days (!) until I was satisfied it was ready, but I was probably being too cautious. So, if I had to do this again I’d be more patient and build the terrain up in relatively thin layers.

[This is the sand after sieving]

The terrain that will make up the sandy beach is painted with Tamiya Flat Earth, and areas that are to be covered with water are simply painted black.

[This is what got removed from the sand!]

To prepare for pouring the water, I had to add a fascia to the front of the scene in order to hold the water material in. This was made from pieces of 0.020 inch styrene glued to the layout’s Styrofoam substrate. It was also painted black.

The sand I used was some I collected at a beach last summer. After letting it dry out, it has to be sieved to remove over size debris. I bought a cheap kitchen sieve for this job – take it from me, in order to maintain harmony in the house, don’t use one from your kitchen I’m always surprised by how much stuff gets separated out during the sieving process. The sieved sand isn’t strictly HO scale, but it has a passable look.

[After shaping and painting, but before applying the sand]

Bonding the sand to the terrain was a two step process. The first part simply involved painting the terrain with a thin, even coat of white glue and pouring the sieved sand onto it. Don’t worry about getting the sand shaped properly. Just make sure that everything is covered. When it’s all in place, tamp it down lightly with your fingers. That’s it. Let it dry for a day.

The next day I came back and used an old paint brush to sweep the excess sand into the ocean area and then scoop it into my stock bag so as not to let much of it go to waste. Once I’d scooped up as much as I could, I vacuumed up all the remaining loose sand from the terrain, ocean bed, and anywhere else it had gotten into. It didn’t look too bad after step 1. And, actually, you could stop here if you want to, but the next step adds some tones and helps seal the surface.

[Applying the first sand covering]

The second step is basically just sprinkling some loose sand, along with a little ground dark green scenic foam, and gluing it in place with some thinned white glue. The glue mixture is just a 50 / 50 mix of white glue and water with a few drops of 70% isopropyl alcohol (IPA) added. The IPA is used to partially reduce the surface tension of the water in order to help make it flow better. Without the IPA, when you drop the glue / water mix on the terrain it will clump up into balls and may or may not eventually soak into the terrain. So, lightly sprinkle the beach with sand and ground foam to get the look you’re after, use an eye-dropper to carefully wet a section of the surface with some IPA straight from the bottle (this further helps the water / glue mix soak deep into the scenic material by breaking down the surface tension of the water), and then, using another eye-dropper, apply the water/glue mix. Don’t worry if you get a few little white puddles here and there –it’ll eventually soak into the terrain. If you get big puddles, I normally use a little bit of paper towel soak up the excess. Don’t scrub the surface with the paper towel, just gently touch the surface with it and let its absorbency do the work for you – this way you minimize disturbances to the surface material. Work your way across the beach until all the loose material is glued down. I normally leave it for a day to dry, but you may find it dried after just a few hours depending on the local humidity.

[The first sand application is drying]

Well, that’s it for beach building. I’m moving on to pouring the ocean, but for now, I’m going to take a toast break:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Victoria Park Streetcar Turn-around

Last weekend Debra and I met her friend and colleague mc for breakfast on Sunday. The directions mc gave me to find the cafe were simply "it's on Queen Street East near the Victoria Park streetcar turn-around". And it was.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A replacement for the lost E.L.Moore truck

Awhile back I did a kitbash of a VW microbus in order to build a truck similar to the one frequently seen in E. L. Moore building construction articles in the '70s. And later that same year I lost it while taking some photos outside. I've been getting ready to build a replacement, but last weekend I stumbled across this one at George's. It's a VW T2 Pick-up from Brekina Automodelle in Germany, and it's a great little model. It needs a little weathering here-and-there, but it's just the replacement I've been looking for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where It's At

I realized I haven't posted in a while. It's been a crazy few weeks. I haven't gotten as much done as I'd hoped, but I have started on modelling the beachfront scene - I plan to have a detailed post on that later. I don't think the layout will be completed by Christmas, but trains will be running, the beachfront should be done, and maybe the major parts of the urban portion, as well as the rural, Moorian area, should at least be sketched out by then.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Card stock scribing techniques

I came across this video awhile back when I found some videos about the Madder Valley Railway and the Pendon Museum. This video describes how Pendon model builders simulate brick using a scribed card technique. It strikes me as quite labourious, but the results appear to be well worth the effort. When I first saw this video it reminded me of the scribed siding on card technique John Allen used to construct his famous engine house back in 1948. I've been studying his article and I've got this feeling that I'd like to try and build that engine house using the same techniques he used. Sounds like a good project for the deep winter months ahead.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Last train to Stoufville

This was inspired by last summer's Matchbox Jaguar Mk 10 photo, but with apologizes to the Monkees.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


That painting teacher who was concerned about ‘two-ness’ also taught us that interesting paintings should incorporate different sorts of contrasts: colour, shape, shadowing, texture and so on. One way to make these things more visible while the painting is being painted is to look at it turned upside-down or sideways. This can make bland passages stand out because the eye isn’t as fixated on decoding what it thinks is the content. Well, I can’t really turn the layout upside-down - other than in a picture - but it’s pretty clear that its skyline is more-or-less dead level; hence, without much height contrast it’s a bit boring. I’ve got a small 6-storey high-rise under construction on my workbench, but I’m embarrassed to say it’s been there in a semi-built state for quite a long time. Regardless, I think I need to consider height contrasts a bit more to liven things up. Also, I want to make sure that some scenes partially obscure or hide the trains at times while they’re in motion for a little “now-you-see-‘em-now-you-don’t” contrast. I think many layouts achieve contrasts in height and visibility through mountains, bridges and tunnels. Since my layout is flat, I need to use some other means.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Scenes develop

Progress is slow, but steady. Most of the recent work isn’t very photogenic: figuring out DCC and getting the various locos to operate, adding street overlays, adding a program track and fixing the ‘two-ness’ of the track plan, beginning to add the wild grass areas, and many other odds-ands-ends associated with just building. Things are also slow because I don’t have a master plan for the scenery and operations. I spend a lot of time just looking at things and trying out ideas. Fun, but slow.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Saga of the Magic Time Watch

The paragraph that accompanies this excellent video at YouTube says that it was created by Element X Creative as the sponsor reel for The Association of Independent Commercial Producers Southwest 2011 show. While you're watching this I'm going out for Cracker Jack. And while I'm gone keep a look out for the DeLorean time machine.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The teahouse and the saloon

I came across this video while browsing at Micro / Small Layouts. In some ways it's an almost perfect layout. The second video was one I found browsing YouTube recommendations associated with the first video - I rather like the railcar.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Music inspired by the Gorre & Daphetid

I recently stumbled across this musical composition by Joseph Sowa inspired by John Allen's Gorre & Daphetid model railroad.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Three palms and four cars

[No, palm trees can’t grow outside in Ontario – not unless they were some sort of genetic hybrid that lets them survive a January -40C night! But I thought Grilles should have palm trees, so in they went. The parking lot planters are leftover tire halves from the Gran Turismo project – they seemed appropriate for a converted gas station. Also, while searching through my stash of model tires and wheels I came across some broken Hot Wheels wheels which I think should be useful in restoring some of the broken specimens I was taking pictures of last summer.]
I added a few details to Grilles as preparation for siting it on the new layout. First though the parking lot was cut back from its odd shape to a square so that it fit properly in its new location. The B/A sign is a reference to Grilles’ gas station roots (my father worked at B/A for many years so it’s also got nostalgic value to me). A Walther’s telephone booth was added to the parking lot in case Clarke Kent finds himself in town on vacation. The cars are all fairly modern and were all given license plates and a little black wash for highlighting details before being rubber cemented into place. When placed on the layout, the upper deck dining area will have a great view of the ocean, and being right next to a street car station and book store, this place should be a big money maker