Wednesday, February 29, 2012

29 after the 29th

The winter has been a drag – I’m glad there’s only a few weeks left. This may sound funny, but although there’s 2 or 3 feet of snow covering the yards around here, it hasn’t been a particularly hard winter as winters go. But, I do feel like I’m in a mental funk. Cabin fever maybe. Last January I tried my hand at posting 30 times in 30 days over the course of the month to see if I could do it. The posts themselves varied in quality, but I did accomplish that modest goal. Looking back, one thing it did do was help give me a little boost for taking on creative tasks, so I thought I’d give it a try again. Since the 29th of February only occurs once every four years, so this seemed like an auspicious day to start. Hopefully I’ll post every day, or maybe every two or three, in March. Last year I did my posting marathon in this blog, this time I may split it between 30Squares and retroDynamics as I’ve been thinking about a number of projects that are better suited to that blog. I eagerly await any mental kick-starting I can get to happen

I thought I’d start with John Ahern’s book, Miniature Building Construction, since it’s been sitting on my coffee table in front of the tv for a long time! Last spring I bought a copy after I’d read about Mr. Ahern’s Madder Valley model railroad in an article written by Chris Leigh in the December 2010 issue of Model Rail. He built it in the 1940s, and what made it unique was that it was one of the first, and best, examples of what became known as ‘scenic model railroads’. That is, a model railroad that has extensive, well-made, realistic scenery and trains, and mimics to some extent actual railroad operation – which is our de facto norm today. The article mentioned that Mr. Ahern was a pioneer in the design and construction of model buildings – he was the John Allen of England, or maybe John Allen was the John Ahern of the U.S The article also stated that Mr. Ahern had written a book on the subject; that being the case, I knew I had to look for a copy. Luckily, through the magic of the internet, I found one.

The book’s front matter indicates it was first reprinted in 1950, and that my version is a 1956 reprint. Stickers and stamps inside my particular copy suggest that it was acquired by the Kansas City public library for its circulating collection in 1958, and was surplussed in 1991. I bought it via Alibris, and it’s still in very good condition.

It’s quite a interesting look at how to build 4mm or 7mm scale (HO scale is 3.5mm) model buildings with 1940s technology: primarily card and wood – essentially an elaboration on the techniques presented in my grandmother’s teacher’s manual training guide I wrote about a while ago. The old photos in the book, and the colour ones of the still operational (!) Madder Valley in the Model Rail article, attest to the fact that the results are anything but crude. Certainly today’s manufactured craftsman kits are far superior detail-wise, but the skill and charm of Mr. Ahern’s builds still come through even here in the 21th century – well, maybe that’s just my own bias coming through because I admire scratch built projects made from simple raw materials. Hopefully sometime this year I’ll be able to try my hand at one of his builds, or at least try his methods on a new build.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Russian train in watercolour

I stumbled across this 45 rpm record while looking for some old Christmas LPs at my father's house. I like the cover art: a rather striking watercolour painting of a stream train high above a bright winter scene populated with cross-country skiers. I think he bought this record one summer in the International Pavilion at the CNE in the late 60s or early 70s. From the pristine condition of the record, I don't think it had ever been played. I gave it a spin, but the music wasn't to my taste.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Big block rock

Sometimes when I take pictures for a post, ideas for other pictures come to mind based on those I’ve taken. They don’t all have model railroad content, but they often seem worth exploring to me just to see where they might go – they in turn could lead to something else that is even more interesting; but, maybe not immediately. These days I’m finding that I often think about what sort of photos will result from various modeling projects, and those considerations at times drive what gets built. There’s a back-and-forth between picture ideas and modeling ideas, so I’m thinking that from time to time I’ll try and post some of those derivative photos. This simple one came to mind after taking the final photo in the Moe Lass’ fireplace construction post - this rock has sat patiently on the floor of my study for years! The big rock wasn’t cut to that square, blocky shape – that’s the way I found it. It has an interesting shape, good colour and has a serious heft to it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Moe Lass': Building the fireplace


According to Mr. Moore’s article, this building is sort of representative of a sorghum processing plant dating from the mid-1800s. A building like this might potentially survive into our end of the 21th century with fairly regular maintenance and a whole lot of extremely good luck - the building would be around 160 or 170 years old today! But, it probably wouldn’t still be used for the job it was originally built to serve.

[Basically, the fireplace is built up from several layers of 1/16 inch balsa sheet.]
I struggled for awhile with this one’s story of how it could still be around, and what it might be used for these days. In the end, its massive fireplace was the key: barbecue. With a strategic site on the Lost Ocean Line it could easily be imagined to serve mouth-watering ribs, brisket, chops, chicken, duck, or whatever, to an appreciative clientele from both the industries in the east, the city in the west, and the tourist attracting beach in the centre. The primal call of barbecue is one that can’t be ignored! The aroma wafting through the countryside would no doubt be the only advertisement required. It’ll probably need its own streetcar stop to handle the customer traffic

[The outside face of the fireplace has two semi-circular openings at ground level for creating the fire. The barbecue operation will need someone to sit back here to keep the fire going.]
I built the overall shape of the fireplace fairly close to Mr. Moore’s instructions, but I did modify the interior hearth to allow for barbecuing, so I didn’t incorporate a place for the sorghum vats. These would have been removed and lost to history during the ongoing refitting of the building over its long life.

[The hearth is so high off the floor because there is a 3-foot tall platform that covers half the floor. So, there'll be an elevated cooking area and lower area for customers.]
Mr. Moore describes a technique for weathering the Northeastern brick walls with tempera paints. Instead of following his suggestions, I decided to age things a bit using pastels since I wasn’t sure if the water-based tempera applied to the paper and balsa laminated walls would warp them a lot. The overall effect of the dry pastels is subtle, but it does tone down the shininess of the brick paper a bit.

[Those super family-sized cans of baked beans on the shelves are made from styrene tubing cut to size and filled with putty.]
I also rubbed down the edges of the brick paper with a soft lead pencil to get rid of the white edge. It sort of gives the building the look of something that’s been drawn with a pencil and then filled in with colour, but that’s ok with me. Some more general weathering is probably on the horizon for this building, but I’m going to ease into it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

El Camino Municipal Swimming Pool – 3 easy pieces

I finally had some time to work on the pool. After being left to dry for about a week or so after painting, I went ahead and added some chrome to the body and an initial row of concrete blocks - a Micro Mark brick paper - to the bottom. The 'Pool' sign was drafted out on my computer and printed on a piece of photo paper. A dab of rubber cement was used to bond it to the sign board. Now with the basic pieces in place I'm moving on to detailing.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

El Camino Municipal Swimming Pool – Basic painting


The temperature popped up to around 0 a few days ago, so I used the opportunity to do some quick spray painting outside on a few projects I have on the go. Zero Celsius is far from ideal spray painting conditions – most spray can instructions say not to paint below around 10 degrees or so – but I got some satisfactory results, so in the end things worked out.

Basically, what I did was get everything ready to go in the basement, then went outside for just a few minutes to spray the paint, I then left the painted piece to outgas a bit in the garage, where is wasn’t quite as cold as outside, and then finally brought the piece back inside for proper drying. I don’t know if this would work on pieces that need smooth painted surfaces like automobile bodies due to the different temperatures of the air, paint, spray can, the piece being painted and so on, but for the buildings I’m working on, it was ok.

[Those holes in the pickup box are for future LEDs to light-up the water. I'll add some clear plastic inserts behind them to keep the 'water' from leaking out.]

I first base coated the body with a uniform application of a deep, ultramarine blue. Once dry, I then dusted it with a spray of turquoise. The turquoise is applied until the overall colour of the piece shifts from deep blue to turquoise, but allowing the deep blue base to still be seen as mingling in from below. It takes a little practice to get the mix just right, but holding the can of turquoise a few inches farther from the piece than you normally would helps. When that was dry, the roof was sprayed white – again just enough to shift the overall appearance to white without obliterating the blues below. Well, that was the plan; I wasn’t so lucky on this step and accidentally completely coated the roof in white paint with a single pass of the spray, so when it was dry, I went back and dusted it again with turquoise to restore the look I was after. I was rather happy with the end result of all this spraying and I’m thinking of buying another one of these kits and building the car straight from the box, but spray painting it in this style.

Once I’ve added a few details to the body, I think it’ll be ready to be attached to its base for final assembly.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Moe Lass': Applying brick paper


[The walls have been temporarily tilted up to see how things look before aging and adding the fireplace.]
I covered the balsa walls with MicroMark brick paper – specifically with their ‘aged brick’ product. I’m not a paid shill for that company, but I am rather partial to their line of brick papers. The detailing and colour are quite good, and I like the adhesive backing.
Looking at the photos in Mr. Moore’s article it looks like the Northeastern brick material he used only has the brick pattern on one side, and the other, the interior side in this project, is simply an un-patterned wood. I decided to brick both sides since that seemed more appropriate for this sort of backwoods building.

I think the most important tip to working with brick paper I can give is to always have a sharp blade in your knife when making cuts. At the slightest sign of tearing, or drag on the blade, change it for a sharp new one. This does use up blades – I think I used maybe 5 or 6 all told for balsa and brick paper cutting so far – but it’s probably the single most important technique to helping get the cleanest and most accurate build at this stage. You don’t necessary need to discard those slightly dulled blades, just set them aside for other tasks like working with styrene.

One other tip I should note is that I use a thin application of thick super glue on the balsa edges when I’m applying 1/16 inch strips of brick paper to cover them. I’ve found that the brick paper’s adhesive sometimes isn’t enough to hold these thin strips in place on the often uneven and rough balsa end-cuts. When covering large, flat expanses of wall, the paper’s own adhesive backing is sufficient and doesn’t need anything extra to hold it in place.