Monday, January 27, 2014

Gantry installed

Over the weekend I installed the gantry on the carriage. It puts the height of this model at around 33 cm, which translates into over 90 ft in HO scale. According to the instructions, the gantry is designed to fold flat on the carriage for transport. Unfortunately, I managed to break one of the support struts,
so I figured the parts were a little too delicate for this feature; well, this model will be glued-up in the deployed position. Anyway, this HO scale interpretation will make it difficult to fold the gantry and pull the carriage with some sort of loco, so I guess this is all for best.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Starting a mid-20th century vintage store

I think the thing I like most about streetcar layouts may be their biggest drawback for some: they’re urban and need lots of buildings. I grew up in Toronto where streetcars have been in continuous operation since what seems like the dawn of time – well, since the horse-drawn streetcars of 1861 to be more precise - so to me they aren’t relics of a pre-WWII North America. It’s easy to imagine streetcars of various vintages traveling through streets with buildings of many eras – that whole retro-future, all time periods existing simultaneously thing. This being the case, the building that houses The Red Apron in Ottawa struck me as a generic 1960s storefront common to Ontario – attractively remodeled for 21th century use – that might not be too hard to build and look right at home with some streetcars cruising by. The food’s great there too!

Here are a couple of photos of the prototype.
[The left part...]
[... and the right part]

The building procedure is going to be low-tech; much like Vivien Thompson used for the 4mm scale tram models in the Sept ’73 issue of Model Railway Constructor. The fa├žade will be built up in three layers: an inner ‘glass’ layer of clear plastic, a middle layer of 0.012 inch thick styrene with window and door frames, and an outer layer of styrene pieces and brick papers for the brick and masonry. These days this project could no doubt be more accurately produced using photo manipulation and graphics software, and some sort of laser cutter or 3D printer, but the cost of all that seems a little high for a pastime – and kind of takes the fun out of it for me.
I started by drawing the middle layer of the facade on a piece of 0.012 inch styrene using the photos for estimating dimensions. I assumed the doors were 3’ wide by 7 ‘ tall and used that to dimension the other components.
Once all the lines were done, I cut out all the window openings with a sharp knife and a steel ruler. 
The facade was then cut free from the rest of sheet.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

E. L. Moore’s Legacy in the 21st Century: Signature Styles, Signature Structures, and Selective Staging

E. L. Moore had a signature style - which we had a look at in the second and third installments - but he didn’t have a signature project; that is, he didn’t have one particular project that stood above the rest, showcased his style, and became a touchstone that changed the way hobbyists fundamentally thought about model railroading. Compare this to John Allen. He also had a signature style regarding scale model structures, but he also had a signature project: his Engine House build that appeared in the October to December 1948 issues of The Model Craftsman. It was a rather freelanced model of a two-stall engine house that might have existed in the early 20th century western USA. Its level of detail - especially considering the relatively rudimentary construction methods compared to today’s standards - was revolutionary. It appears to have spawned many other engine house construction articles, although, none reaching the heights this one did. It was also turned into a very popular kit by Finescale Miniatures.

When the HO gauge Gorre & Daphetid R. R. needed an engine house to service equipment, I checked over all possible old photos and plans....For this model, I was more interested in reasons and methods of early construction rather than to make an exact copy - the same as a farmer builds a barn to fit his own needs, a railroad builds a shop to suit its own equipment...Should you decide your railroad needs a shop of this type, change dimensions and plans to fit your own locos and other requirements. The large windows and numerous sky lights give the workmen plenty of light and of course makes it possible for the boss - that’s you - to keep his eye on them. [Some introductory remarks by John Allen in his The GD Line Builds an Old Time Engine House,The Model Craftsman, October 1948.]

The Engine House was exceptionally well detailed – far better than the common standards of the time - but I think its strongest attribute lies elsewhere as is hinted at in Mr. Allen’s opening remarks on the project. Today, its level of detail is easily matched by even the most rudimentary of craftsman kits. Detail is a mainstay of today’s kits and scratchbuilt work. But, one thing that still isn’t as common is the way that the Engine House makes use of space and pulls in the viewer’s eye. Mr. Allen’s use of large windows, large open doors, and skylights is masterful. He introduces these elements in a way that makes them look natural, well-proportioned, and purposeful. They allow the viewer to look into, through, and around the structure in a variety of orientations. When combined with evocative arrangements of people and things, and internal lighting to illuminate dark spaces, the total effect is compelling. It pulls the eye in and takes it on a little journey with interesting stories and sights to see.

Many model buildings, when one gets down to fundamentals, are boxes, or stacks of boxes, where external surface effects are the main visual element – often astonishing in fidelity to their real counterparts. Many also have full or partial interiors, again, often of extraordinary detail and craftsmanship. Some are small works of art. But, Mr. Allen, even with the simple method and materials of his time, went to the next level and created a space defined by a structure that seemed alive.

I’d like to say that I had the formula needed to replicate Mr. Allen’s magic on demand, but I don’t. Although I think I can see a few hints to help take projects in his lively direction. Here’s where I think it begins: Buildings are living things when they’re in use. There’s human activity, lights, machines, vehicles, animals, and such. And you can interact with a real building. The building itself is a story telling machine just as the layout itself can be as was touched on in part 3. Models don’t always convey these aspects and are sometimes just static surfaces with some figures or machines placed nearby, not really interacting or telling a story. Mr. Allen was able to connect all those pieces together, and pull together both the inside and outside activities of the engine house, into a seamless whole by making adjustments to the building’s openings. This also helps to grab the bosses’ attention, and pull them into the scene further enhancing the liveliness.

Compare Mr. Allen’s Engine House to one of Mr. Moore’s, his Home for Small Locos, in the March ’73 issue of Railroad Modeler. Although Mr. Moore’s is detailed inside and out, the overall effect isn’t that alive, and it comes across as more of a decorated box than a building. Well, many real engine houses were just big boxes when you get right down to it, so Mr. Moore’s likely is prototypical in that regard. It does however illustrate that not all aspects of a prototype make for compelling scale models. 

 ‘Selective Compression’ is a well known concept that involves reducing some dimensions of the building, and re-proportioning others, to make a potential model more practical as an addition to a model railroad. There might also be a related concept whereby certain windows, doors, and views are adjusted to make the sights inside and around the building more visually compelling and integrated into a whole scene: something possibly called ‘Selective Staging’. Applying Select Compression and Selective Staging to a model will make it less representative of a particular prototype, but maybe like a good novel, even if it is all made up, it still might tell a certain prototypical truth.

But, it does look like Mr. Moore had a go at ‘Selective Staging’ with Uncle Peabody’s Machine Shop in the June ’72 issue of Railroad Modeler. The core building is a variation on Moe Lass’ Old Sorghum Mill that appeared in the April ’66 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. Peabody’s has larger windows on the front wall in order to showcase the Airfix machine tools on the inside. That change makes some sense because these sorts of small, late 19th century or early 20th century machine shops would often make use of as much free natural light – in this case, via the celestory and the large front windows – as possible; however, the enlargement of the front windows on this model doesn’t seem to naturally fit into the overall look of the building: to me they seem a little too large for the small building. I suspect some adjustments to the building’s overall dimensions might have been needed to pull this off. On the other hand, enlarging the windows was the right thing to do, it makes sense both for what the little building is, and to make all the interesting things inside easily viewable, so it does use Selective Staging to take the building in an Allen-esque direction, but the overall building is a bit short of the Engine House magic.

I thought I’d have a go at applying ‘Selective Staging’ - in part to help me work out the idea - to Mr. Moore’s Cousin Caleb’s Cabbage Plant build that appeared in the December ’71 issue of Railroad Modeler [1].The first time I saw this project, I knew I had to try and build it. The exposed framing on the front, and those tubs, are quite interesting, but it seems that the cabbage processing building on the back is out of place: it’s completely closed whereas the front part where the tubs are is completely open. I figured I’d open up the back building a bit, maybe with some floor to ceiling folding doors, and some skylights in the roof, so that it was easier to see what was going on with just a glance [2]. I’m not quite sure at this point about what all the changes will be, but hopefully it’ll evolve in a more 21th century direction.

On the other hand, I figured I’d use very old fashioned construction techniques because I wanted to try my hand at the techniques John Allen used to build his Engine House, and because I wanted to be extra cheap on this project :-)
Mr. Allen used Bristol board for the Engine House walls so I figured I'd do the same. It turned out that a small pad of the stuff under the US Strathmore brand cost twice as much as the Canson brand from France, so I bought the Canson. Although, I think any type of similar cardboard you might have on hand would do. 
I started with the cabbage processing building and laid out the side and back walls in one continuous piece of Bristol board. I've decided to leave the front wall off and replace it with sliding doors to open it up and try some 'Selective Staging' - not too sure how this will work out, but I'll see. In the picture you can see I tried to add in a few windows on the back wall as if the builder had bought a lot of old windows at a salvage store. In the end, I decided on no windows, and to introduce a couple of skylights instead. I should also note that the article didn't seem too well edited, and close reading is necessary to get the dimensions right.
Horizontal siding was scribed into the card with a scribing tool. Mr. Allen used an ice-pick on his Engine House. An ice-pick seemed a little too Hitchcockian for me, but if you've got one on hand, go for it. Both sides of the card were scribed since viewers will be able to see inside.
At this stage all the scribing was done and the door openings were cut out with a sharp X-Acto knife. In Mr. Moore's original, the back door is off centre, but I went ahead and put it in the middle of the wall.
The walls were then lightly stained with a thinned red acrylic paint on the outside and a thinned mixture of light gray and flat white on the inside.
After the paint had dried, the walls were cut out. The corners were scribed on the outside surface so they could be easily folded.
On the inside surface I glued on a number of thin balsa strips to represent framing using white glue. The strips were pre-stained with a white / gray mixture prior to gluing in place. The verticals are about 2 scale feet apart. The framing is a mixture of 1/32 inch balsa strips - cost of around 32 cents for a 30 inch strip from the local hobby store - and strips sliced from a 1/32 inch sheet scrap I had on hand. This home brew balsa lumber isn't too scale-like, but to make it more realistic one could use commercially available scale lumber, but that considerably cranks up the cost of the project. I'm trying to keep things inexpensive.
Here's the cabbage processing building folded up and with a main beam joining the side walls together. The beam is held in place with super-glue, and white glue is used in the folded corners. I used a couple of books to hold things square while the glue dried.

[This is the 5th part in a multi-part series. Part 4 can be found here.]


1. The first issue of Railroad Modeler was released in September 1971. The editorial on page 5 lays out the objectives of the new magazine in quite clear terms,

This will not be a publication dedicated to scratchbuilding models from two old tin cans, a tongue depresser and half a can of stove polish. Rather we want to show you how model railroading can be a fascinating hobby using the latest products and materials designed for model building. {From the editorial of the inaugural issue of Railroad Modeler, September 1971}

It’s interesting that by the 4th issue, December 1971, the magazine published a feature article from the philosopher king of using the non-latest products and materials designed for model building: E. L. Moore’s Cousin Caleb’s Cabbage Plant, the subject my current build. 

2. As far as I can tell so far, it looks like the only time an E. L. Moore project fully adorned a magazine cover was the March 1962 issue of Model Trains.
It was an evocative black-and-white image of his Grizzly Flats depot build, accompanied by some equally great photos – some of his best I’d argue – in the build article. This project really grabbed my attention and I hope I can get around to building it. In the introductory remarks to the project, Mr. Moore hints that he wasn’t unacquainted with the concepts of Selective Compression and Selective Staging,

As I have modeled it the little station resembles the prototype in all important aspects...I don’t claim that the dimensions coincide exactly with those of the prototype. To capture the glamour and sprightliness of the little depot was my aim. {E. L. Moore on the design philosophy behind his Grizzly Flats model; The station at Grizzly Flats; March ’62, Model Trains.}

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Celebratory Muffins

Circumstantial evidence suggests that you can take a Texan out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the Texan. This being the case, Debra baked up a batch of her world renowned jalapeno corn-bread muffins with cheddar and sage – organic, no sugar added - in honour of the conclusion of another successful year of model streetcar-ing. Well, it might have been in celebration of me getting the train stuff out of the workshop, but I’ll go with the first explanation :-) Either way, they are indeed the most awesome corn-beard muffins this side of the Red River. That's it for the photo tour and here’s to another year!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gotta train to catch...

... a box to deliver,
... and a couch to test.

Afternoon at the beach...

...some are looking for business
... others are enjoying the sun
...and others just want a refreshing beverage

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Zen and the art of streetcar waiting

Attempt to fathom the unfathomability of the universe.

Your streetcar will arrive.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Two flat cars...

... and a tanker. That two-storey block building at the end of the photo with the big air-conditioner on top is Mr. Scott's turned sideways. Unfortunately, the rooftop shuttlecraft landing pad hangs off the edge of the layout. The building was used as a stand-in to fill up the streetscape - I wanted to add a highrise, but didn't have the cycles to get it built last year.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Haggling over the rail beetle

No, it doesn't run. It's a static item. This rail beetle consists of the remnants of whatever I could dig out of the vacuum cleaner after the little car got accidentally sucked in during some layout cleaning.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Last stop for barbecue

The fires are out. The tables cleared. The dishes washed. The floors swept. All that’s left is the aroma and the promise of another day.

Friday, January 10, 2014

It's time...

... to move the layout from its place of honour in the workshop where it resided over the Christmas holidays back to its usual place. Hopefully this'll be the first of a few pictures I took while it was all primped for showing off :-)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Bachmann Spectrum Peter Witt streetcar in TTC colours

Last year around this time I wrote a review of my HO streetcar fleet. One of the members was a Bachmann Spectrum Peter Witt streetcar in Chicago Surface Line colours. Last November I finally picked one up in Toronto Transit Commission colours to go with my small collection of Bowser and Con-Cor PCC TTC streetcars. Unsurprisingly, the colour of the body doesn’t change the operational behaviour of the model :-) The TTC and CSL versions perform the same. Serviceable, but not near as well as either the Bowsers or Con-Cor. Although, I’m happy to have a TTC version of the Peter Witt.

HO scaling Revell's Jupiter “C” launch gantry

I wanted to work on a completely different and relatively straightforward project over the last week so I decided to make a start on the re-issue of Revell’s Jupiter “C” rocket and rail-based gantry kit I bought a few years ago. I discussed it a little in the Launch Pad layout post. According to Mat Irvine’s book Creating Space, it’s a 1: 110 scale kit of the rocket and gantry that put the USA’s first artificial satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit.
For me, as a model railroader of conventional scales, 1:110 is an odd one. For an HO layout, at 1:87, this kit would be a bit too small; for N scale, at 1:160, it’s way too big; but, it’s pretty close to TT, 1:120 scale. Looking at the parts, and comparing them to some figures, I thought I’d replace the kit’s trucks - it looks like the gantry is self-propelled - with some HO ones that would require the gantry to be moved by a diesel engine, and turn the kit into some sort of generic small rocket - maybe some sort of sounding rocket - launching system. Everything else will be box stock. With judiciously chosen figures it might not look too bad in HO.
Anyway, the gantry carriage is built and up on some HO trucks I had in my scrap box. Now, all this thing will do is travel in a straight line back and forth from the vehicle assembly building to the launch pad. Not very exciting, but its job is very simple.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

E. L. Moore’s Legacy in the 21st Century: The Railroad Modeler years

The first three installments in this series (they can be accessed here, here and here) have been mega-posts - more like big articles than conveniently sized blog posts. Big posts means there is a long time between installments. Also, I always seem to have a problem entering mega-posts into Blogger, so future installments - starting with this one - will be broken into smaller pieces. Hopefully this will make the series more readable and allow me to post more frequently. 

I came across Railroad Modeler magazine quite by accident. Back in the day, a month seemed like a geologic age, and with my brain ravaged by train-fever, waiting four weeks between issues of Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman seemed excruciating, so as the end of a four-week cycle approached I’d drop by the local smoke shop every day after school in hopes of picking up the latest issues as soon as they’d arrive. On one of those scouting missions in January ’74 I saw something new had landed; something called Railroad Modeler. And this alien magazine-form had a picture on the cover that leapt out to me: a snapshot from an HOn3 layout called The Cielo Lumber Co., by somebody named John Olson. But there was a big problem, this magazine cost $1.25, and Model Railroader went for a mere 65 cents. A new gap had arisen between desire and financial ability. I stewed over this dilemma that evening when I should have been concentrating on homework. I can’t quite remember how it was resolved other than cutting off some other expenditure to make way for this new one, but I do recall Railroad Modeler stopped showing up on the smoke shop’s rack in July just as mysteriously as it had appeared back in January, so any qualms I had about cost got resolved all by themselves.

Most are made from artist’s illustration board about 1/16” thick. I use standard techniques, most from early articles and early progression model building before plastics and other media were available. I use those because they go together fast. I do them on a drafting table with a sliding parallel and you can build a structure in four to five hours, whereas it takes that long now to put together a plastic kit by the time you’re done painting it and adding a few details.
[The first part of John Olson’s answer to a question about how the buildings on his portable HOn3 Cielo Lumber layout were made; Railroad Modeler, January 1974. Note to myself, I’m trying to figure out what “early progression model building” is.]

From January to June in ’74, only one E. L. Moore article appeared in Railroad Modeler, The Clarabel Hotel in the February ’74 issue. I had a go at building it back then, but the elaborate railings gave me trouble since I couldn’t buy what was needed and I tried to scratchbuild - unsuccessfully  - a suitable substitute. In researching this series of posts I found out that Mr. Moore had published 5 building construction articles in Railroad Modeler [1], so I bought the other 4 from an online dealer.
[The opening beauty shot of E. L. Moore's Cousin Caleb's Cabbage Plant from the December 1971 issue of Railroad Modeler.]

This nostalgic trip through Railroad Modeler combined with re-reading the conversation with John Olson about his Cielo Lumber Co. layout in the Jan ’74 issue, and how it was inspired by John Allen’s work, along with scanning through E. L. Moore’s 5 RM builds all got me thinking about the differences between Mr. Moore’s and Mr. Allen’s projects and style. I’m going to dig into it in future posts, and start on a ‘modernized’ version of Mr. Moore’s Cousin Caleb’s Cabbage Plant, from the Dec ’71 issue of RM, because it struck me as a fun build, and sort of suggested how a Moore build might be ‘Allen-ized’ a bit :-) to give it a place in the 21th century.


[1] As far as I can tell, E. L. Moore published just 5 articles in Railroad Modeler (if you’re aware of others, please let me know):
Cousin Caleb’s Cabbage Plant, December 1971,
Uncle Peabody’s Machine Shop, June 1972,
Home for Small Locos, March 1973,
The Clarabel Hotel, February 1974,
Uncle Sim’s Snuffery, December 1975.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Looking towards the Elgin along Ocean Boulevard

A good night for a stroll. It's around 217 HO-sized feet from the far end of the WSMoftheWBB to the Elgin Restaurant.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Late night book browsing on the LOL

If you can't find what you want at the WSMoftheWBB you can go to the library across the street.
If all else fails, there's always the Bookery.

The Lost Ocean Line is done - more-or-less

[Over the Christmas holidays the layout was rolled into the workshop for some work and showing-off. Blue kraft paper was temporarily hung from the ceiling with masking tape to hide all the workshop junk.]

Two-and-half years later the Lost Ocean Line is more-or-less done. It got started back in June 2011 when I was playing around with some sectional track on the back deck in the evenings after I was done repairing and replacing deck boards.
I couldn't use that track planning technique at the moment. There is a bit of snow out there, and it's a balmy -27C this morning. Any new tracking planning is on hold for a while :-)