Sunday, February 25, 2018

EVRR Tribute Sandwich: Baby Pistachio Grilled Cheese

Every railroad needs a sandwich. Trust me, it's true. This one is based on this recipe.
You'll need some pistachios. Shell a 1/4 cup.
You're going to make a pesto to spread on the bread: pistachios, sage, lemon, garlic and olive oil mixed up in a food processor.
Add, of course, cheese. We used some organic, medium aged Canadian cheddar.
On the bread, spread olive oil on one side so the sandwich doesn't stick to the grill.
That's your pesto - Debra made this as she's got the magic touch.
Spread a thin layer of pesto on the bread followed by a thin layer of apple sauce on top. We used no-sugar added, organic apple sauce.
Then pile on the cheese.
The assembled sandwiches were popped in the grill until golden brown.
I'd say they're ok, but not great. I wouldn't have known there were pistachios in it if I didn't add them myself. The search continues for the ultimate pistachio sandwich :-)
Before we wrap this up, look, with all this talk about organic this and sage that, there's my secret ingredient for most sandwiches: Bone Suckin' Mustard. Get some cheddar cheese, slather some of that mustard on the bread, pop in the grill, and around two minutes later you've got yourself a very tasty sandwich. Looks like its best before date is June, so I gotta get crackin' on sandwiches :-)

Bad Vibes

Sometime ago I posted a few photos of Paul’s powered coach, EVRR #4. He had taken an old time Bachmann coach, cut it down, and inserted a chassis and drive from a Bachmann trolley. It was an ingenuous bit of trickery to help push a train of similar coaches up a steep grade on his EVRR tribute layout. It also suggests other applications like being the basis of a freelanced traction vehicle. The model has been stashed away for many years, needs a little TLC to get it back in running order, but it’s generally still in good shape. 

That post received some negative comments. That concerned me, so I took the post down, not wanting to set a precedent in either denied or acceptable comments, or wade into a swamp. I’ve started to get a few negative comments on various things related to this blog that are outside the realm of constructive critique (constructive critique is ok).* These add up to another thing I’ve been thinking about concerning the blog and its future as it approaches 1,000 posts.

My ‘editorial policy’, for lack of a better term, is that I don’t want the blog to be a swamp. I don't want any blog to be that. Hobbies, at their best, are voluntary activities, labours-of-love, and possibly ways of achieving personal satisfactions through self directed works. If it's just about acquiring and posturing, that's just mainstream life, and where's the fun in that. I use the blog to show and discuss things I like, and try to make an effort to do that in a respectful manner. I’m ok with critique, but not personal stuff – there has to be a spirit of goodwill and fair-play involved. I know that is hopelessly passé and naive, but a blog has to have some sort of foundational principles. I seem to be getting more sensitive to this sort of thing as time goes on.

I like to think there’s some room in the hobby for trying things a bit outside the norm, or maybe way outside. The mainstream magazines** these days present a pretty much homogenized view of things due to the demands of today's marketplace – although I admit there can be pleasant surprises. And then there are those monster commercial enterprises like Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum, Miniatur Wunderland, and Our Home and Miniature Land, among others, that focus on spectacle. They can be good and bad. The grandeur and technical virtuosity of them is impressive, but they can be alienating in the ‘your role is just to pay and watch us’ kind of way. Swampy commentary? I guess it is.

To me the ideal starting point for a new type of place might be the Pendon Museum. I say ‘might’ because I haven’t been there to see the Vale and John Ahern’s Madder Valley for myself, but from what I’ve seen in print and online, it seems to be the right mix. I guess to me the ideal museum wouldn’t be some cold thing like the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum or even something friendly like Miniatur Wunderland - although I love its airport – but something along the lines of an old-school style Exploratorium mixed with a generous dose of Pendon, combined with a dash of workshop and studio, a model building oriented Games Preserve, leavened with some Wells-ian Floor Games, and an archival library thrown in for good measure. This wouldn’t be everyone’s cup-of-tea of course. Those spectacular things are easier to digest. This dream thing probably won’t make a profit, maybe not even cover costs. But, if you’re dreaming, why still be limited by those same things that limit real life. If I win the lottery you’ll see what I mean :-)

I think E. L. Moore had some outside-the-norm thinking in him even though he was deep in the older, folk-art-driven way of practicing model building construction. He treated construction article writing as a genre of fiction as opposed to simply being a prosaic instructional how-to (and we've seen sometimes the prosaic bent was forced on his work) - I have to admit I'd like to go deeper into that too. That, combined with a focus on simpler materials and construction methods, lead to some interesting models. Nothing Earth-shattering you might say, but if more people popped up with outside-the-box perspectives, it could add up to some new and interesting stuff. 

So, why did the Agent Provocateur recommend giving up on layouts? Here's my speculation, and this is my speculation: layouts are often underwhelming; they can do a poor job of communicating how we actually feel about the subject matter; their ability to simulate real operations has been far surpassed by computer simulations; they're stuck in the past; they're too associated with toys; they take too long to build (at least what's considered an acceptable North American one does) and then get trashed after years of work. Maybe it's just plain, old boredom, although, I agree with some of my points.***

Those videos the Agent recommended all had a common thread: the models were much larger than N or HO, probably into O and G and beyond. Even Elgin Park and Marwencol are into big size territory. Yes, size does matter, at least in this case :-) It makes the model more relatable and detailable. There's a sweet-spot where the model transforms from being a toy into something else, but if too large, it launches into spectacle territory. But, just switching to garden layout size doesn't immediately pop one out of toy territory. The thought and skill those artists put in makes all the difference, size is just one of the dimensions they put to use. I need to think about this some more.****

While I'm waiting for my lottery numbers to pay off, I figured I'd at least try some more free form stuff with the Alta Vista TC and maybe use the workshop as a small scale dream machine. Looking back on the LOL, it was fairly free-form, but in the end it had to go because it became too done and rigid, I couldn't see areas for further experimenting. Especially in creating scenes to photograph. Well, the big boys may need to lean on their starchitect crutches, but who needs that when you've got plastic and a lot of glue :-)

Plastic and glue: the paving material for the Alta Vista TC's Edward St..
I've been feeling that I want get some base scenery installed on the layout so it'll be in shape for staging scenes and taking photos. Edward St. is the long, main drag. Over on the left is a side street that turns off and goes down to the beach; it's modelled after Neville Park Blvd in that regard.
That's Stella's lower level on the corner. It was plonked down to get some sense of size. The roads have been compressed a bit so they don't take up to much space. Everything is made from sheets of styrene. The slightly raised sidewalk-curb-building areas are 0.040 inch sheet. They still need scoring for sidewalks and other detailing. 
The base had to be raised a bit and 1/8 inch foamboard, with its paper backing peeled off, was used for the job. Once the panels were covered with foam sheet, styrene sheets of various thicknesses were used to build up the roads and sidewalk areas. The roadway surrounding the track is a whole separate discussion that I'll come back to in another post.
Yeap, I did some two-fisted coffee drinking before getting started.
But I had to because peeling that foam board took lots of energy :-)
Including this post, the count's at 985. The next 15 will likely require copious amounts of coffee :-) And this'll be my last detour into the swamp - I'm heading back into traffic.
* I thought about shutting off commenting, but overall the discussions have been great, and I've often connected with fascinating people via the comments.
** My favourite model railroading magazine these days is Model Railway Journal when I can find it and feel flush enough to afford it.
*** A layout I like and is an inspiration is the Dublin O'Conner Street tramway built by the Railway Society of Ireland. It's featured in In the rare old time that appears in the December 2013 issue of Railway Modeller.
**** And you're right, all my commentary is likely wrong.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Balancing the EVRR*

Over the last week or so I've made a bit of progress shaping the ridge on the left side. There was lots of wood filler applied and grinding done to work in the shapes. Still lots to go. Once some parts were sort of done - like down in the lower left - I painted on some gesso to unify the colour so I could get a better sense of the shape. Then I thought I better unbag the right side and give some thought to shaping and balancing the entire layout as a unified whole. So, I think the next step will be to start filling in the major landmarks over the entire piece to make sure it balances out.
* I haven't forgotten the layout just yet :-)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

"Forget the layout ...

... build large scale EL Moore structures set in a vignette recalling EL's younger days!" comment from a well known Agent Provocateur.

I was going through some photos and came across this neurotic list I made a few years back to offload some thoughts on projects I’d like to build. Looking back I see I’ve only built: the Branchline Station, the Mt. Lowe Observatory, the Frankenberger Building, and the Mexican Restaurant (which turned into Gecko Records during construction). That leaves about 23 to go + a raft of other projects I’ve been thinking about but had the good sense not to add to the list :-) Maybe focusing on buildings, and retail buildings in particular, is the new model building frontier if this Bloomberg article is to be believed. It speculates that retail stores are following a similar track the railroad business took throughout the 20th century and we’ll see less and less of their ilk as the 21st century grinds on. Simpsons? Eatons? Woolco? Zellars? Aikenheads? Eddie Blacks? Sam the Record Man? Weall & Cullen? Mr. Donut? Red Barn? Beaver Lumber? Honest Eds? Dominion? Stienbergs? Kresges? Jupiter? Consumers Distributing? And on and on. If you’re a Torontian of a certain age you'll know the locations and you know the list of the departed is long. Who knows who’s next? 

Well, there's thing - an 'extreme' model railroad for the Contemporary Architecture Museum in North Adams, Ma which includes an equally extreme set of model buildings. Since staritects and big money are involved, who knows what will happen.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"This is beyond impressive"

I don't know, maybe you're getting sick of these, but with the frame-of-mind I'm in, I can't get enough. And, need I say, tipping me off to the work of Randy Hage was all Vince's doing.
Ok, well, he didn't send me links to these videos, but to this article. Naturally, I then sent myself over to YouTube. 
But, yeah, I know, I live in Ottawa, not NYC. There are some interesting store fronts here - well, interesting to me - that I want to incorporate on the new layout. That's one up there.
And that's another. They're not the run down grit and grime of those NYC models, but functioning shops - functioning at one time - that won't look out-of-place and have good memories attached. It's looking like I need to create an opening at the 30 Squares media empire for a new director of video :-)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Incredibly depressin', low down mind messin', workin' on the layout blues

I've been in a funk the last few days. Vince sent me a link to this awesome little video and it got me looking around YouTube - you know how that is.
And then you know, I saw that one being recommended to me.
Which lead me to this one.
I started thinking, well, I think I have a relative in Tennessee, but more importantly, I need to get back to work.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Coaches & cars for the EVRR

Attention Kmart shoppers! Follow the flashing blue light to the model railroad department where for the next 15 minutes you can buy a 3-pack of 1890’s N-scale coaches for the low, low Kmart price of just $9.99. Painted in Tamiya Luftwaffe Light Green, they’ll brighten up any model railroad in your home. Hurry over now! At this price they won’t last long. Have a great day and thank-you for shopping at Kmart!

[EVRR coaches by E. L. Moore]

No, as much as I wish, I didn't pick up these coaches at Alternative Universe Kmart, they came from a swap meet I attended last year. I bought them in March, painted them in April and then they sat neglected on my workbench for the rest of the year. But, on-and-off since the Christmas holidays I've been finishing them. I didn't want a year to lapse and still not have them done. I'm cutting it close, but they're now more-or-less ready to roll.
I scratched my head over what to do about couplers for a longtime. The coaches came with old Rapido-style ones and my loco has modern knuckle-couplers. I bought the coaches anyway as 1890's coaches have been hard to find, and the seller gave me a lower price because of the Rapidos. I decided not to refit all the couplers on the rolling stock to one type, mainly because of cost. I figured I'd replace a few on some cars so I could build trains and leave it at that. You can see on the upper chassis, one Rapido has been replaced so it'll couple to the loco. I did the same thing with the caboose chassis in the lower right.
[Bachmann's old time 4-wheeler straight out-of-the-box.]

The caboose is an old Bachmann item I bought this past summer at George's Trains from their resale stock. It's outfitted with Rapido couplers out-of-the-box and is rather toy-like, but with a bit of painting it makes an ok impression.
[On the EVRR you can get a sense of how small the caboose is.]

A 4-wheel caboose construction article was one of E. L. Moore's earliest publications. I sometimes wonder if a 4-wheeler was a right-of-passage for mid-20th century model railroad writers. Mr. Moore's was The Little Red Caboose that appeared in the December '61 issue of Model Trains. Bill Schopp also did one. 
William (Bill) Schopp's first publication of the many - likely numbering in the many 100s or into a 1,000 or so - he made over the course of his career was A Four Wheel Crummy for HO Railway that appeared in the July 1937 issue of The Model Craftsman. That issue, like just about all issues from the '30s, is eye-popping in its use of illustrations.

In the same issue is this Ideal Workshop spread. The depth and detail and optimism in that article is great.
I didn't shoot many photos during painting, but as you can see the coach roofs were sprayed flat black and some light washes of thinned flat black and smoke were used on the bodies for highlighting and weathering.
The road names were decals I printed with my computer. I'm not completely happy with the results as the transfer film was a bit thick and I couldn't get it to completely conform to the scoring in the coach walls. It turns out my friend Paul Zimmerman had a much better approach.
[EVRR coach #2 - photo courtesy Paul Zimmerman]

Paul built a gorgeous EVRR-based layout in the 90's and also kitbashed a few most-excellent coaches to ride its rails. He solved the road name problem with paper banners. I'll let him fill you in on what he did.
[EVRR coach #5 - photo courtesy Paul Zimmerman. 
Notice how in both of these models the weathering is subtle and effectively blends the piece in with the overall scene - not too much, not too little, just enough to suggest that it belongs.]

These are my N scale cars that I built in the 1990s.  They're by Bachmann, but kitbashed shorter and lighter.  The "decals" are rub-on white letters over black posterboard - then sized down on a copy machine, cut and darkened the edges.  Today, it'd be even easier on a computer and printer.

There's a third (not pictured); it came with the oldie train set that got this all started.  But I have some steep grades on the EVRR and I fit the third car OVER a Bachmann trolley mechanism!*  It didn't fit exactly; it bowed outward a little. Anyway, I wanted to share my cheapie method for the decals.  The long name is a strip, Elmer's Glued on; the number is on a "wooden plaque" (tiny bit of the paper).  Cheap!  Plus, they hide the cut marks on the kitbash. 

*I've got to see that trolley conversion!
Each of my coaches had a clear plastic block inside that provided the windows. They had to be removed in preparation for painting and were destroyed getting them out. For new windows I decided to simply smear Microscale's Micro Kristal Klear as per the instructions on the bottle inside the window frames.
The resulting windows are quite clear, but are wavy. I think that might produce a nice lighting effect once I find some lights small enough to stuff inside - I've simply friction fit the bodies over the chassis so they can be slid off for light installation. The picture up there shows that there are bubbles in the rightmost windows of one coach. That was easily fixed by slicing out the windows with a sharp, new X-Acto knife blade and applying Kristal Klear again.
The cars aren't too bad looking, but they aren't finescale items by any stretch of the imagination. I'd say they're impressionized and need a little more weathering once I've given them a few runs on the layout.
I have to admit I like the functionality of the Rapido couplers. It's true, they don't look prototypical, but the various types of knuckle couplers on the rolling stock I've accumulated so far have varying degrees of functionality: from works beautifully to decouples as soon as the train starts to won't couple at all. Rapidos work all the time.
The relatively harsh light emphasizes the need for further weathering.
Last summer I bought some resale box cars to start building out the fleet.
I wasn't picky about road names and couplers. I was more concerned about getting cars that were about the right era and were small enough to handle the EVRR's tight curves. The couplers on these are knuckle-couplers, but of a lower quality than those on the loco. Some have a tendency to decouple when the train's in motion.
I also bought a couple of resale freight cars from a later era - that's one on the left. They had body-mounted couplers, and that combined with the extra length, prevented them from negotiating the EVRR's tight curves.
[An N-scale mixed train on E. L. Moore's Eskale & Hontee RR]

All this is to say is that when I try to build up mixed trains I'll need to be careful about couplers and car lengths for smooth running.