Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Walls go up at Mel's

Drill bits and optical fibres arrived in the mail a few days ago, so work resumed on Mel's Drive-in.
After studying the main building walls for awhile I decided to extend them and put a sloped roof on top. I figured that since this Mel's was going to reside in a northern clime, it might be good to have a sloped roof to prevent snow accumulation. The extension would also help hide the fibres I plan to install in the sign. This is a picture of some early plans at figuring out what to do. As you can see, I was focused on having the roof slope towards the circular restaurant, which would give winter diners a big surprise when a snow load cuts loose! 
The new wall pieces are cut from styrene sheet embossed with brick glued to 0.030 inch sheet plain styrene. I completely replaced one kit supplied wall with a new brick one. I didn't want to just put a brick top on the kit's stucco walls as I thought it would just look like a hat on the basic structure. This way it looks more integrated, and goes with the small brick walls that make up the dinning room.
The stucco portion of the walls were sprayed with Krylon Riverstone. This colour is pretty close to the raw colour of the walls, but what the Krylon does is dull down the finish. Once dry, I dusted each wall with Krylon Gold to help emphasize the stucco texture.
The main sign was drilled out with a #74 bit in order to accept 0.5 mm diameter optical fibres. The letters are brushed painted with Tamyia White.
I cut out the floor from the base for easy access to fibre and power. The dinning room floor was sprayed with white and then dusted with gold when dry.
The dinning room doors were brush painted with Tamyia chrome paint. After the paint was dry, a line was scribed between the doors to simulate the gap, otherwise they look like a window frame and not a door.
Here the walls are partially installed. The lower parts of the walls are painted with the same brick colour as the main wall extensions. The floor holes that lock the little walls in place had to be opened up a bit with a knife as the mouldings were a little uneven and not completely clear.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A visit to the Diaz Contemporary to see the Kim Adams exhibit

[The Diaz Contemporary]
I was in Toronto over the weekend and had the opportunity to see the Kim Adams exhibit at the Diaz Contemporary gallery. It opened on 18 July and runs until 17 August.  There is also a Kim Adams exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario running until 11 August, so if you’re in Toronto, you can catch the double bill for a couple more weeks.
The Diaz show is quite different from the one at the AGO. It consists of around 10 - this is an approximation, I should have counted - small, 12 inch x 12 inch, dioramas. Each features a caboose(s), usually accompanied with a crane or two, as an exploration - often a whimsical one -  into how to use a caboose for everyday living or business. All are built from readily available HO-scale model railroad components.  Thematically, they are calmer than either the Artist’s Colony (Garden) you can see at the AGO, or the Bruegel-Bosch Bus at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

The dioramas are displayed much better in this gallery than the Artist’s Colony (Garden) is at the AGO. They are spread out along the white walls of the display room with lots of space between each one so that they don’t impinge on their neighbours. The room lighting is clear and uniform, making it easy to see all the details. Focusing on display may seem unimportant, but care on this aspect helps to show the dioramas to their best advantage. The only display improvement I might suggest is to somehow show them on free-standing pedestals so viewers can walk around and see all sides, although I admit this would require even more gallery floor space than might be practical or readily available.

I like these builds. Although they all represent unusual uses for cabooses, they all seem plausible and could be possible in ‘real life.’ If there are any enterprising GTA real estate developers out there reading this, buy ‘em all, spend sometime looking at ‘em, maybe try ‘em in different arrangements like puzzle pieces, and maybe if you’ve got your eye on some land somewhere just laying around and not earning its keep, maybe this’ll all add up to a money maker. If not, they still look great, and you’ll have some good art to enjoy - and no doubt appreciate :-) If you’re a model builder, they’re great examples of ‘what-if’ modeling. If you’re an art collector, they’ll look good in your collection - again, after you buy one, try and display it on something free-standing if you’ve got the space. Well, regardless of your interest, go see them.



The Diaz Contemporary gallery is located on the corner of Tecumseth and Niagara, just a short walk from the intersection of King and Tecumseth - which is also a convenient streetcar stop. The AGO and Diaz are pretty close to each other - well, relatively speaking - and smack dab in the part of the city that’s criss-crossed with a dense network of streetcars, so you can ride the rails and check out the art. Although I must admit I usually walk everywhere when I’m downtown. The terrain’s dead flat so the walking is easy; there’s lots to see and do on the street: food of all kinds, gawking at buildings, as well as people and streetcar watching. 
[I clipped this ad from the weekend Globe & Mail. It was interesting to see the old TTC PCC streetcar still in use in popular media.]

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Reading with a side of ham

At least there wasn’t a line to stand in to get out of there. One hour to kill. Adams wouldn’t appreciate me calling him for an update, so I decided to cool my heels at the drug store near the end of the food court.

I heeded the ‘Please Seat Yourself’ sign at the drug store’s entrance and headed to a free booth across from the far end of the counter. I dropped in the seat and reached for the menu. I was starved. 

The waitress came by as soon as I had studied the menu back. She pulled out a note pad from her apron and a pencil from behind her ear.

“Big Al’s big breakfast please.” 

She scribbled down my order. “Anything to drink sweetie?”

“And some black coffee thanks.”

“Just be a few minutes.” With that she turned to the next booth for a new order.

There was a rack of magazines opposite the end of the counter. I could see the new issue of Thrilling and Amazing Analog Stories of Science Fiction and Fantasy right at the top. As well as proclaiming it was still only 60 cents, the cover boasted a new story from Isaac B. Clark. I grabbed it and dug in while I waited for my eggs.

By 2081, settlement of the far reaches of the solar system definitely had one adverse affect on Earth civilization: the holdings of the royal and ancient - but unfortunately long disbanded - Scarboro Public Library were scattered all the way from Mercury to Pluto. Colonists could just not part with their beloved tomes and carried them jealously wherever the whims of fortune took them. So, to right this wrong and reclaim the legacy for a new generation, many long retired library board members, along with sympathetic supporters from the underground rebel book alliance, convened to consider their options. They needed a ship - a fleet of ships actually - to go to those distant places and collect those treasures. And collect them with punishing over-due fees.

A laconic “Here’s your breakfast sweetie” roused me. I made room for the big plate and steaming mug of coffee.

“Can you put this on my bill?” I waved the digest at the waitress.

“Sure sweetie” And with another scribble added to her note pad, the waitress left me to my eggs and spaceships.

Professor Emeritus Vincenzo Air reported on a long forgotten chapter in propulsion technology: the curvilinear j-Fforde drive; an interplanetary drive named in honour of the author Jasper Fforde, discoverer of Book World earlier in the century. The basic principle behind the drive was a targeted seeking of the 'spine' in local space that, once found and accessed, allowed a spacecraft to jump to any location in space via 'pages' in a matter of seconds. After an immodest allocation of funds, and a number of years of development, the first prototype book retrieval spacecraft outfitted with a curvlinear j-Fforde drive - the s.p.l. Bendale - was ready for testing. Many hardcore due-date ignorers were on Mars, so the shakedown voyage was to Cydonia for a face-to-face showdown. Prof. Air insisted on being the test pilot, but he was a little too fast on the draw and gunned it so hard that he kinked the main drive unit. When later asked by reporters how fast it would go, he replied, "It's a real page turner". Among the stacks back on Earth, his title of Professor Emeritus, was quickly replaced by Lead-foot - well, at least outside the range of his hearing aid. And what about those fee dodgers? Some tricks of illumination allowed them to avoid facing-the-music on this sortie - but there is always next time!

And so ended the story along my eggs, bacon, beans, sausage and pancakes. The hour wasn’t quite up, but I hurriedly paid at the cash register and headed back to the black door.

The next instalment can be found here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Three trolley stops, a bike, and some planes

[Trolley stop #1]
The intense heat broke over the the weekend and Sunday turned out to be an ideal summer day, which I started with an early morning bike ride. My destination was the Rockcliffe Park airport, and my route followed the eastbound leg of the bike path along the Rideau River, then snaked through some streets to the governor-general’s residence at Rideau Hall, looped through the streets along its back border to meet up with the leg of the bike path running along the shore of the Ottawa River, and then followed the river to the yacht club which marked the intersection where a right turn, and a short climb up their service road, took me to the airport’s back field for some plane watching.
[All that's left of the trolley tracks.]
There’s a stretch of the bike path that parallels the Rockciffe parkway that used to be the right-of-way of a trolley line that ran from the mansions of Rockcliffe Park to downtown Ottawa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All that exists today are a few metres of track preserved in an approach to the bike path, and some of the private trolley stops that bordered the track. I’ve ridden by these odd pavilions many times over the years and wondered what they were. Well, it turns out they were shelters built by homeowners whose properties bordered the trolley line so they could be a little out of the elements while they waited for their ride into town.
[This is the view looking back towards that track remnant from trolley stop #1.]
[Trolley stop #2. This one's in much better shape than #1.]
[Trolley stop #3. The bike path is still being renovated here; hence, the orange construction fence.]
[And finally some planes.]

Friday, July 19, 2013

‘Fluorescent’ lighting for the Elgin

[The roof fit needs a little tuning]
I’ve been fiddling with the Elgin build this week while I’ve been waiting for the new drill bits and fibre optics for the Mel’s Drive-in project to arrive in the mail. Also, it’s been gosh darn hot – well, hot for here – with daytime temperatures in the low 30s and humidex in the low 40s, some evening model building in the cool of the basement goes down rather well these days.
[Compared to the WSMoftheWBB the Elgin is pretty small]
When I started the project I didn’t plan to put lights in, just clean it up a bit, but while rummaging through my left over optical fibres trying to figure out what I’d need for Mel’s, it dawned on me that some simulated fluorescent lighting by way of side illuminating optical fibre might look alright in this little building. It looked like it was going to be relatively easy to install, and I had enough parts left over from other projects so I didn’t have to buy anything new; I decided to give it a go. 
The lights are made from 3mm diameter side illuminating optical fibre. The 'fixture' part of the light is simply a U-section styrene tube.
Surprisingly, it isn't easy to find a glue that will bond the optical fibre to the styrene fixture. Eventually, I found that this Hercules double-sided tape did the trick. 
Here's an end view of the fibre. I painted the end that dead-ends against the glass wall frame with silver coloured paint.
Here's the lights after installation. What got me started thinking about this sort of lighting were some recesses in the short glass wall. The assembled lights fit neatly into them.
I bought a couple of these LED closet lights at the dollar store down at the mall when I was trying to figure out how to light up the fibres in the WSMoftheWBB build. They didn't get used on that project, but one of them was useful on this one. Note to self, even though it's called a 'dollar' store, these things cost $2.
This is what it looks like after the cover and reflectors were pried off. The optical fibres aren't too flexible, so I cut those yellow power wires from the batteries and soldered in some longer pieces so I could get the LEDs close to the fibres without too much undue fibre bending. I also cut out the on-off switch from the circuit board to replace it with a slide switch that could be more conveniently placed in the structure.
Here's the light after the re-wiring. As you can see I also cut off the outer housing to allow the unit to fit into the building better.
A piece of sheet styrene was glued to the bottom of the light unit so I could insert it securely between the walls of the secondary structure. 
A hole had to be cut in the sheet in order to replace the batteries at some future date.
So, here's the lighting unit installed in the secondary structure. The on-off switch was taped to the floor in a convenient location.
The optical fibres were trimmed and attached to the LEDs with heat shrink tubes. A hair dryer was used to shrink the tubes.
There was an interior garage door between the main showroom and the secondary structure. I cut it out and replaced it with a photo of a room printed on standard 8 1/2 x 11 paper. The third LED, and the residual light from the optical fibres, backlights the paper and helps reinforce the illusion of a detailed room in the secondary structure.

I still need to add some signs and details, but I'm going to park this one for awhile and work on Mel's.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Old Friends

Take elevator to subway level. Walk three blocks east through underground concourse. Ride escalator to street level. Walk to unmarked black door near food court. Push buzzer to right of door. Pull handle designed to be pushed when bell rings while holding badge up to peep-hole. Enter police records department. Stand in line.

And stand. And stand. And stand some more.

Get form. Fill out form. Stand in new line.

And stand. Wonder what Leslie is telling Adams. And stand some more.

Hand form to clerk. Recognize that clerk is none other than old Jack Joad from FORTRAN.

Jack stamps top of form with blue inked stamper.

“Hi Jack! It’s me, Ed.”

Jack puts down blue stamper and picks up red stamper.

“Larry, don’t cha remember me? It’s me, Ed Bryce. We used to work together at FORTRAN.”

Jack stamps bottom of form with red stamper.

“Two hours. Come back in two hours,” was Jack’s reply.

“Jack, look at me.”

Jack looked up. “One hour. Come back in one hour.” 

“Thanks Jack.”

“Any time Ed.”

The next instalment can be found here.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Last seen in the parking lot

As soon as Constable Williams had left on his coffee mission, Leslie continued.

“I did resign from the lab and my final day was February 13th last year. We were both glad that I was gone. And to be clear, I didn’t take any prototypes, or anything else for that matter.”

“Ok”, Adams nodded that he was clear on that point.

“A couple weeks later I heard that Donna Martin had also quit the lab. We were friends at the lab and for a while she was my assistant on the fusor project. When I heard she had left, I called her up to talk.

“We decided to take a little trip up to Algonquin Park to cross-country ski with Michael, my husband, and get way from things for a while. We rented a car and left on a Thursday morning. We were driving up the 400 and decided to stop and get something to eat, so we pulled off the highway and went into a store near the Barrie ‘lev station. Michael and I went to the back of the store to get some drinks, and Donna was near the front looking for her favourite chips. Once we got our drinks, I looked back for Donna, but she was gone. I looked around the store but I couldn’t see her anywhere. I thought she had gone to the washroom, but when I glanced out the store window I saw her being shoved into a van. I have no idea how she could have been forced outside without any noise or anybody in the store noticing.

“Anyway, Michael and I ran outside. They were driving away, so Michael got in our car and tried to follow them. I went back in the store and had the manager call the police and waited. Michael came back in a few minutes. He’d lost them.

“There’s probably a record, but we told the police everything that happened."

The meeting room door opened and Constable Williams entered with a tray of coffees. Leslie rose from her chair, took off her blazer and put it on the table beside her place. Williams set the coffees in the middle of the table and returned to his chair. Leslie reached for one and sat down.

After she settled back in her chair and took a sip of coffee, “I don’t know how they got her. Maybe she went out to the parking lot to go back to the car and they grabbed her there.” 

Leslie sipped a little more coffee and continued, “Just before the police left, their lead guy came over to talk with Michael and me. He said from my description of Donna that maybe those guys were actually looking for me and had made a mistake.”

Leslie was ashen. She looked up at Adams and asked, “Do you have a cigarette?”

Adams reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a small silver box, popped open the lid and motioned Leslie to take one.

He caught me staring at him.

“You can wait outside and watch for the smoking police if you would like,” he quipped sarcastically. I didn’t budge but I did wipe the smug from my face. Adams handed me a dime from another pocket.
I got up, walked over to the light switch, popped off its cover and used the dime to twist the smoke alarm control to off. They’ve got to fix these things.

Adams offered Leslie a light from a zippo. Apparently his pockets contained all kinds of paraphernalia.  He then pulled out a parker 51, wrote something on the top page of his files, and then handed me a few papers as soon as I had finished my juvenile act of sabotage.

“Take this to the central registrar to document that Dr. Warden has responded to the warrant,” was Adams’ spoken command to me.

But his written command was decidedly different: Get Donna Martin’s missing persons report from police.

The next instalment can be found here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Broken drill bit blues

Hopefully next week I’ll have a more complete post about Mels. Things are a little stalled right now because I broke all my #73 drill bits working on the fibre optic holes in the Mels sign. Order for replacements placed. Jets cooling until the postman arrives.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


On numerous visits to the hobby shop over the spring the Mels Drive-In kit from Moebius Models has called out to me from the shelves, “I know you want me. You can’t resist my circular restaurant and stylish retro sign.” 

I tried to counter with a rather lame, “but I don’t have a big parking lot on my layout, or a collection of cool 1950’s cars to show you off.”

My protests were to no avail. Maybe it was its seductive personal-pan-pizza size box, or the allure of how it might look bejeweled in radiant optical fibres. I was over 15. I couldn’t resist. I plunked down my cash, and the clerk gave me a wink as I took Mels out to my car and home to my workshop.

And so it begins: my adventure with Mels Drive-in.
[The opening scene in American Graffiti had Mels as the locale - according to Wikipedia it was located in San Francisco and closed down but reopened to film the movie, and then demolished after the movie was made.]

Mels Drive-In had a prominent role in George Lucas’ 1973 movie American Graffiti which sealed its place in the broader popular culture as an icon of 1950’s America. 
[David Fincher's 2007 movie Zodiac featured Mr. ED's briefly in its opening scene. I don't know if it's an actual building or a clever computer graphic, but the film places it in Vallejo, California.]

Moebius Models was very savvy turning it into a kit, what with the strong focus on 1950s stream-to-diesel transition era layouts in the American model railroading press. 
[Here's the base for Mels situated in a possible track plan.]

To me, I do admire its styling, and it seemed that it would fit well on a corner of whatever streetcar layout is to come. I imagine it as being part restaurant, part street car stop, located at a bend in the streetcar track with a lawn spread out between the building and the track with lots of picnic tables and a view of the ocean. Sounds good to me. 

I don’t plan to do a lot of modifications on this kit. I think it’ll be close to box-stock, but with some lighting. I’m planning on using side-illuminated fibre optics along the perimeter of the circular roof and some regular fibres drilled into the sign much like I used on the WSMoftheWBB project

I’m not sure if all this will work out, but I’ll see. I’m also going to try and build this one fast instead of my usual dead slow pace. I was reading an article called Old Schooled in a recent issue of New Scientist about how to help an old adult brain like mine learn new things – according to Debra this is required reading for me :-) One thing it mentioned was that “adults can hamper progress with their own perfectionism: whereas children throw themselves into tasks, adults often agonise over the mechanics of movements, trying to conceptualize exactly what is should focus on the outcome of your actions rather than the intricacies of the movements”. The last project I did where I decided not to agonize too much, and made speed of completion a priority, was the Fortran Building, and in the end I was rather happy with it; compromises and all. So, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I can find the time for this build and put the pedal-to-the-metal when I do.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Back to where it all began

“Do you wish to seek consul for this interview?”

“Am I being charged with a crime?”


“I don’t need a lawyer.”

Leslie Warden had returned. She was seated across from Adams and me at the big conference table in interview room 8. Apparently she had picked the lock on her ‘lev suite, hid near an exit door, and successfully escaped without detection as soon as the train pulled into Confederation Station. Somewhere between here and there she had combed the sand from her hair, showered, and changed into some fashionable business attire. Clearly, she still had some close connections in the city. Her demeanor suggested she was starting just another day at the office. No one could tell that only yesterday she was some sort of gun-wielding desperado holed up in a Ward’s’ Island beach cave for who knows what reason.

Adams continued, “We’ve asked you to meet with us to discuss interview warrant A75-35 concerning two missing prototypes of a compact low-yield fusion generator.” Adams slid the warrant across the table to Leslie.

Leslie silently glanced at it.

Adams pressed on, “Let’s begin. I’m Zachariah Adams, Head of Scientific Investigations.”

Zachariah? Now I knew.

Adams nodded towards me, “This is Special Investigator Edward Bryce.” Adams then glanced towards the man at the far end of the conference table, “The proceedings will be recorded by Constable Grant Williams.” Adams looked back to Leslie, ”Do you need anything before we begin?”


Without further ado, Adams launched into the heart of the problem, “Dr. Warden, on Wednesday, 27 March 19C6, two experimental prototypes of a compact low-yield fusion generator were determined to be missing during an audit of the government’s physics storage facilities. Before your resignation from federal employment in the Compact Fusion Research Laboratory on 13 February, you had access to that facility and those prototypes. Do you know what happened to them?”

“I didn’t steal them if that’s what you mean.”

Adams leveled his gaze on Leslie and kept on going in an equally level tone, “On Thursday, 19 July 19C6, while escorting Mr. Bryce to his home, Constable Robert McMillan, was killed in the line of duty by a single, prolonged shot from a directed energy weapon believed to have been constructed from the missing prototypes. We believe the killer thought Constable McMillan was me.”

Leslie gave Adams a shocked look.

Adams opened the manila folder in front of him and continued reading from some hand written notes, “During an investigation of the workshop facilities of Mr. Ronald Fairbanks at the PCC Leap Year Winter Invitational in February 19C7, Mr. Bryce found what appeared to be a fusion generator prototype installed in the motor of a streetcar drag racer. An attempt to remove it caused it to explode. No injuries resulted. Fragments were subsequently recovered by the incident investigation team and they appeared similar to materials used in the missing prototypes. Mr. Fairbanks confirmed that you were the person who sold and installed the device.” 

Adams looked up at Leslie. No response.

Adams turned to a new page in his folder, “During an interview with the Birney brothers at their company headquarters, the brothers confirmed that they hired you to temporarily install a device for their prop trolley for the movie Builitt. You removed and took back the device once the movie was shot.” Adams gave her another glance.

“Yes, I did contract work for those two companies, but I didn’t steal any prototypes. And I certainly didn’t construct a weapon or help anyone else to do so!”

Adams turned another page and went on, “And a little over a week ago, there was an attempt made by two armed men – one of whom was the Constable McFarland who was involved in appending Constable McMillan’s killer - to disrupt a streetcar as a ruse whose end goal apparently was to assassinate Constable Bryce. The subsequent events lead to you being here today.” Adams paused. “If you would like to stop this interview to obtain consul, we can do so.”

“I don’t need a damn lawyer! ” shouted Leslie, and after a brief pause, in a calmer voice, “but I think I need your help.”

Silence descended.

After a few seconds that seemed like an hour, Leslie asked Adams, “May I have some coffee?”

Adams looked down the table towards Constable Williams, “Make that coffees for everyone please.”

The next instalment can be found here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wall Decals

It was looking like the only way I was going to get crisp, clear lettering on an intensely red background for the WSMoftheWBB was to buy a new higher-end printer that sported a place for a pure red ink cartridge. I didn’t want to spend any more money on this project, so I decided I’d go with what I had and try to blend the wall decaling in with paint. 
The end result was a somewhat run-down look at street level. Toronto being a rather gritty city, this wasn’t too far out of place in the overall scheme of things even though it wasn’t prototypically accurate for this building. I once had a painting teacher who said that a painting has to hold together on its own because the typical viewer has never seen the actual object that you’re painting, so if you need to do something that deviates from the object to make the painting work, that’s fine. I think the same applies to model building. 
I’ve got decaling on my mind these days and since I was at it I decided to try another idea I’d been toying with: the addition of a simple mural to the back wall of Stella’s Used Records. I bought a boxed set of Bill Evan’s Village Vanguard recordings last winter in a remainder bin and I thought the cover image would be a great piece of HO graffiti – well, I’d be impressed if I walked down a street and saw it sprayed on a building :-)
I scanned the image, scaled it to fit the wall, and printed it on a piece of Micro Mark clear decal sheet. The image was fixed with a few sprays of Tester’s Dullcote. The decal was set on the wall with several applications of Micro Sol decal setting solution. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The ‘Building in a Bag’ becomes The Elgin Restaurant

[The walls were temporarily leaned together to see how things will look.]
Although simple and toy-like, this is a rather charming kit. I started by making new pieces for the long sidewall and the small back wall. Each new wall is made from two pieces of styrene cut and glued together: the outer piece is 0.020 inch sheet with an embossed stucco pattern, and the inner piece is regular 0.030 inch sheet. 
[These are the walls that were replaced.]

[There's a gap between the stone wall and the main section window frames that will need a sliver of thin styrene sheet to fill.]
Prior to an initial spray of colour, all the walls were washed in warm soapy water and sanded a bit to remove any remaining sprue burrs. Many low-cost toy-like structures can be improved considerably just by giving them a more nuanced paint job, and I’m hoping that will help out this little building. Things are looking promising and even painting the once light blue window walls have made it clear that they have rather nice shapes and detail.