Saturday, April 28, 2018

Thumb tacky no more

I've only had a little time here-and-there to do layout stuff, so I 'tackled' a job that has been nagging to be done for a long time: Remove the thumbtacks that were holding the Neville Park loop down and replace them with proper track nails. Up there is the finished loop and down there is the starting point.
I used thumbtacks because the loop was so tight - 7" radius - they let me make fine adjustments during track installation. The track is also held in place with transfer tape. I ran a PCC through once all the nails were in place and found I had accidentally changed the rail alignment on the entrance track and that caused derailments. I removed a couple of nails and the track sprung back. No more derailments and smooth running was restored.

Samurai Blues

The Alta Vista TC was letting riders tag along on test runs through the new neighbourhoods. I figured I'd join them, but when I saw the video store at the Kilborn stop I got off and went to look through the stacks. I wasn't disappointed. On my way out I picked up a paper, flipped through to the entertainment section and saw a review of the disk I just rented. What a coincidence :-) 

Samurai Blues

All I've known about The Seven Samurai for most of my life is that it was influential in the making of Star Wars. I noticed Peter had it in stock and decided now was the time to watch. I did. It was great.

Maybe you were expecting a contrarian opinion to show how original I am because saying it was great sticks with the consensus view. It's hard to say anything new about a classic like this given the amount that has been written since its 1954 debut. My advice is: try not to read any of it; just watch. Do your reading after. I will note that the movie's around three-and-a-half hours long, so maybe consider watching over two evenings, or on a long Sunday afternoon. I started watching one evening after a particularly long day at work and began falling asleep around the one-hour mark. I decided to continue another night. Not because it was boring, but because I felt I was missing lots of good stuff - and I was. There's plenty of beautifully interwoven human interest, character studies, action, costumes, scenery and story to more than hold your attention for three-plus hours if you haven't spent the previous eight-plus in the 21st century work world.

There's a built-in five minute intermission around the hour-and-three-quarters mark, and I admit to sneaking off to find the iPad after taking a bathroom break. The internet reminded me that the 1960 western, The Magnificent Seven, was based on it, but wasn't well thought of. All I recall is that James Coburn was in it. I should watch it again to see if I can figure out why he stands out in my mind. But what I couldn't find was a reference to The Blues Brothers.

I guess when it comes to samurai my brain is fixated on John Belushi's Samurai Delicatessen from Saturday Night Live. Ok, maybe it was Samurai Belushi that flipped some brain circuit, but I couldn't stop thinking about parallels to The Blues Brothers. They both star John Belushi, but there's more than that. Let's look at some 'evidence'. 

1. There's a mission to be accomplished: The harvest of a village of farmers must be prevented from being stolen by marauding bandits vs Back taxes that must be paid on an orphanage to keep it from closing. 

2. A group of heroes must be assembled to accomplish the mission: Samurai are sought out and hired while the movie shows something of each's character vs Jake and Elwood's old band is sought out and re-assembled while the movie shows something of each's character. 

3. There're frequent displays of prowess: Fighting with samurai swords vs Playing and singing the blues.

4. There's an epic final deciding battle: The samurai defeat the bandits in a rainy epic battle in the streets of a 1586 Japanese farming village vs Jake and Elwood outwit the police in an epic of automotive carnage in the streets of 1980 Chicago.

5. But the victory is bitter sweet: Many Samurai are killed and the surviving samurai wonder if their victory was worth it for them vs The band winds up in jail. 

I submit the above for your consideration. No, the match isn't perfect, but the similarities are similar.*

John Belushi also stared in Samurai Optometrist and I think I need some new glasses before the next movie rolls :-)


*You're right, the similarities, although similar, are an illusion. Many movies have this structure, but that doesn't imply their heritage can be traced back to The Seven Samurai. All I can say is in my mind, The Blues Brothers popped up for some reason only Sigmund Freud himself can figure out.

Friday, April 27, 2018

MRE, Vol. 15, No. 6

Vince and I got to talking about the D. Derek Verner post. One thing lead to another and he told me how back-in-the-day he based a science fair project on Mr. Verner's Modeling with Fiber Optics that appeared in the April '73 issue of MR. It inspired him to look into the science of optical fibres. Looking back, MR seems to have run a number of articles that were strong on science content in the '70s. Mr. Verner's was one of them. Well, Vince's project did quite well, so we thought that since the time machine was again in operation we'd sneak back and have a glimpse at the fair. Turns out our present science skills weren't so swift and we over-shot the year - and maybe the universe too. But, we did bring back that issue of MRE over there on my coffee table.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Rheinberger Strassenbahn Betriebe HO tramway

Thoroughly amazing. I'm watching and learning from a master.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

2001: A Yost-Verner Odyssey

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Saying it's a favourite film is something of an understatement, so my advice is if you have a chance to see it, don't pass it by.

Years ago I was a cog in a big bureaucracy. One of the ceremonies of life in that job was to hold one-on-one meetings with team members every two weeks. One afternoon at one of those meetings we got to talking about favourite science fiction movies. I mentioned 2001 was mine. My colleague hadn't heard of it. I said it came out in 1968, and explained a little about the story and why I liked it. His only response was he didn't watch movies that were made before he was born. I felt ready for the rocking-chair, but after the nausea passed, and I considered his comment further, I realized his response was odd, but understandable. And as it turns out, I've heard similar comments about 'old' movies from other people since then.

I probably would have had the same reaction to movies that predated my birth if I hadn't been raised on a steady diet of TVO's Saturday Night at the Movies and Magic Shadows during the '70s and '80s. Both were hosted by the legendary Elwy YostSaturday Night at the Movies, as the name says, was a movie program that aired on Saturday nights at 8. The show ran two movies over the course of the evening, usually with interviews of Hollywood directors and actors from the golden age between the two. I seem to recall the earliest shows tried to mimic an afternoon at a movie theatre in the '30s by also showing short features along with the double bill. I remember watching many sci-fi serial instalments with my father before the movies started. This was one of the few times we'd watch tv together, but he'd usually leave soon after the movies started.
When written down in black-and-white, the show doesn't sound that much different from lots of other time-filling movie shows that crammed the channels back then. The difference here was the host. Elwy Yost was highly knowledgeable about the movies, and through his genuine and enthusiastic presentation skills you knew he loved movies and wanted you to love them too. Without Elwy as my teacher I would never have come to love movies, especially so-called 'old movies'. I was lucky and got a real education.

Ok, so the '70s are rolling on and I'm getting my movie education and reading Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman with something akin to religious fervour, and then along comes D. Derek Verner's The Lido Theater in the March '76 issue of MR. This is not some namby-pamby kitbash, or folksy balsa build, this is real deal model making. There's photo-reduced signage, fibre optics, a custom machine that sits inside to create chase lighting, realistic detailing inside and out, casting 'neon' lighting, all presented in that long-gone sophisticated MR style. But back then it was too costly and time-consuming for me to build, so I had to admire it from afar.
So, here we are in the 21st century. Peter, who runs one of the only movie rental stores left on the planet just down the street from my house, is chatting with me about movies to watch in the Criterion Collection, and I'm awash in 2001 nostalgia with it's reminder that the tragic 2001 has come and gone years ago and the vision of that Kubrick and Clarke dream never materialized. But in that slurry of remembrance were some good memories of how I came to love movies and maybe should finally build a Yostian tribute theatre with some Verner inspired model making. Debra's telling me I should jump in as soon as the Airfix Gromit airplanes are done. Maybe so. I put it on my to-do list a long time ago - maybe this is the year.

When names from my model railroading past pop up I naturally make a beeline to Google. I didn't find a lot, but was surprised at what I did see. D. Derek Verner was the son of the famous magician, Dai Vernon, who, as it turns out, was born here in Ottawa in 1894 - 4 years before E. L. Moore. I found a 1999 documentary on YouTube called Dai Vernon: The Spirit of Magic. His life story is fascinating and disturbing. The movie is well worth watching. D. Derek Verner makes an early appearance around the 50 second mark and, along with his brother, provides insightful commentary throughout.

In the Model Railroader archive I found a brief biographical note about D. Derek Verner's model railroading activities in the Bull Session column of the January 1975 issue, but to get a sense of what his interests were, here's a list of his MR articles (I don't know if it's complete as he published a lot more than I had realized),

Lettering store windows, Sept '58
Modeling with fiber optics, Apr '73
Detail your interiors with a camera, July '73
Minicalculator: Tool for modeling, Jan '75
Vacuum de-airing for better casting, Sept '75
The Lido Theater, Mar '76
Deluxe cutting board, July '77
Zap-texturing for foliage, Sept '80
Shrink modeling, Nov '81
Modeling a campfire, Mar '85
Build a Dustroyer, June '85
How to simulate flickering fires, May '92
Light up the night with Neon, Aug '92
Painted power, Feb '93
A carload of sound, June '96
Video animation, Dec '96

You can see The Lido Theater was but one of many high quality projects. There's a lot of good reading there for me to catch up on. 

[24 Feb 2019 update: While reading through some old issues of Railroad Model Craftsman I found these two D. Derek Verner stories: A Block of Stores in the Feb '73 issue, and Modeling a chain-link fence in Aug '75]

I also found D. Derek Verner mentioned in a couple of Genii: The Conjurors' Magazine forum postings here and here. Summarizing them a bit, there's mention of a couple of electronics articles he wrote (although I suspect he published more than these),

Low, low cost intercom, Nov '65, Electronics Illustrated;
A Non-Serious Circuit, Apr '93, Popular Electronics;

and, sadly, there's discussion about alcoholism. He died in March 2016. I suspect there is much more to his life story than I've mentioned here.

I didn't see 2001 in '68 - I was too little to see it on my own. Frankly, I was only vaguely aware of it, and my parents weren't interested in that sort of thing. I finally saw it sometime in the mid-70s. I don't think I saw it on Saturday Night at the Movies - maybe I did - but it was likely on some crummy Dialing-for-Dollars '70s vintage tv on some long Sunday afternoon. I've watched it many times since then. And no, I didn't rent it from Peter. I still own my own copy on DVD. 


"Ed, wake up."

I stirred. My eyelids were stuck together. Somebody was shaking my shoulder.

"Wake up Ed."

I remember now. I'd fallen asleep at my desk. My head was down on the desktop, cradled in my arms, an elbowy fortress on the blotter providing protection from the hordes of scattered model building stuff. I lifted my head and tried to open my eyes. I wish I'd closed the blinds last night, the sun wasn't helping.

A newspaper plopped down in front of my nose.

"I haven't got all day Ed."

I straightened and slowly leaned back in the chair to look for my tormentor.

"Leslie, how'd you get in here?"

"The door was unlocked and you weren't answering the bell."

"Did you bring coffee?"

"Yes, it's over there on the table, but look at the paper first."

I reached over to the crisp newspaper resting on the results of last night's marathon modelling session. I gingerly lifted it off, hoping it hadn't scrunched the staircase I was building. Nothing was disturbed other than a few stair treads that were knocked loose. I unfolded the paper and scanned the front page. 

"Astronauts Prepare to Leave Moon. Crash Leaves Two Dead. Afternoon Showers. What am I looking for?"

"Page three, below the fold."

I went to page three. There was a picture.

"She's beautiful." I read the caption under the photo, "Meagan is an astrophysicist by day, but by night she loves to boogie with the stars."

"Not her."

"30 Squares Reaches 1,000 Post Milestone"

"That's it."

"Can I have some coffee?"


"On April 14th, the noted model streetcar blog and E. L. Moore archive reached the 1,000 post milestone. When asked about the secret to the blog's longevity, the reclusive head of the 30 Squares media empire said, "I'll post something and think, this it, no more. Then a few days later I think, I'll post this idea and that'll be it, no more. This was repeated a thousand times. Maybe I need therapy?" Rumours have been circulating over the past few years about 30 Squares' retirement from the blog-o-sphere, but it appears there's no end in sight. The most popular series have been E. L. Moore in the 21st Century and the pulp streetcar-noir novella, Light Ray Blues."

"Novella? That was non-fiction. You and I were there."

"I know. There's more. The blog is currently focused on building a large streetcar diorama and a small replica of Mr. Moore's legendary Elizabeth Valley Railroad. Time travel is also a recurring theme. The head commented that he'll "get back to writing about making little buildings and sandwiches when the mood strikes." A reception was held at the 30 Squares workshop at Ocean and Sinatra last Thursday evening. Look, there's our picture."

I pointed to a blurry photo near the bottom of the page. Leslie took a peek.

I dropped the paper on the floor. Leslie was holding a coffee in each hand. She offered me one. I took it.

"Here's to another 1,000."

We clinked cups and took celebratory sips.

"Let's get going on 1,002."

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Street construction continues along the Alta Vista TC

Alta Vista TC street construction continues though the future suburbs of the Gladstone and Grove loop.
The streets, sidewalks, curbs and building sites were built up from layers of styrene sheet of various thickness. Roadway surfaces are 0.040 inches below the curb which produces a fairly realistic curb height.
It's going to be a little tricky to install road between the rails through those curves, so I though I'd build everything outside the rails and tackle that job later. That way it'll seem that things are coming to completion as each new piece as installed - hopefully it will be incentive to keep going and finish the job :-)
This was the main street on the LOL: Ocean Boulevard. 
Some of the colouring is ok, but I wasn't happy with the overall model, although when taking photos I could arrange things so that everything looked just fine. In person though, not so good. The streets on the Alta Vista TC are much better.
I wanted the sidewalk outside the World's Biggest Bookstore to look something like the real thing, so brick sheets, with squares cut out for trees, were installed near the curb .
It's not an exact match, but captures what it was like. That shot below is the same street after the legendary bookstore was demolished.
I'll need 11 trees to plant in those squares.
Many of the sidewalks have been scored, and a few have also been sanded to create some subtle grooves in the panels. Once things are painted it'll be easier to see the street detail compared to the white-on-white of the raw styrene.
This work was a bit of a trip down memory lane. These days just about all the legendary Toronto bookstores have fallen to insane real estate prices and the ongoing destruction of the brick-and-mortar retail sector. Take the Albert Britnell Book Shop, which had been at the same location near Bloor and Yonge since 1892, but today is a Starbucks. It was a regular stop for me at one time, and maybe it will be once again somewhere on this new layout. 
Given the 1892 date on Britnell's, it's a candidate for a E. L. Moore style retro build. That large window on the second storey, along with the large street-level windows, would allow for some interior detailing and make for an impressive model when lit up - I think Vince is getting ready to suggest I build it in at least 1/48, if not 1/24 :-)
And speaking of E. L. Moore, while I was in the mood for moving layouts around I boosted the EVRR's Workmate to a more convenient 40 odd inch working height from the piddly 33 inches ...
... and rotated the Alta Vista TC so the Neville Park Loop is under the main workshop lights and ready for streetscaping.

Friday, April 13, 2018

E. L. Moore's Mountain Cabin

Last night I was looking for photos of the portal on the other end of this tunnel. No luck. I'm going to assume the portals at both ends are more-or-less the same.But I did see that little cabin on top of the mountain in one photo and snipped it out. It appears to be closed-up for the season. That is going to be a tiny model in N-scale.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

33 to 41 for 2

Layout height is often a concern and although it’s not a big one, it has some implications. Over the past few weeks while working on the Alta Vista TC, I’ve come to appreciate its street-level height of 41 inches above the carpet as it’s very comfortable for me to work at while standing. I’m 5’-8”, so your dimensions may vary.
By contrast, the EVRR has always been on a Workmate during construction, and its 33 inch height I’m finding less than optimum. It’s awkward for sitting at as I always seem to be reaching across it to other places and bumping things. And it’s much too low for standing while working. I’m going to raise it to 41 inches or so, and place it directly under some room lights so illumination is improved. Perhaps that will speed up progress :-)
When it comes to showing off these layouts, and especially the Alta Vista TC, I want to boost them to close to eye-level. My rationale is this: when I’m riding the streetcars and buses and subways of Toronto, I’m experiencing everything at eye-level, not from some giant’s aerial perspective. Even at 41 inches, roofs dominate the view and I don’t want that. Also, with the Alta Vista TC’s bent island design, the higher street-level will allow viewers to walk-around, look around corners and down streets much like in they would in the world. All this might not apply to the EVRR – it might have it’s own unique height that gives best viewing. Some experimenting is probably called for.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

EVRR tunnel portal #2

Last night I spent a little time looking through E. L. Moore's EVRR photos for a good picture of the tunnel portal that appears on the level below the stone one. These 2 snippets are all I could find. It's some sort of wooden crib and box-like structure. Clearances are tight in that area of the layout, so some careful measuring will be called for before I start to build. Also, there's a switch just inside the portal, so that'll complicate things.

A tunnel portal by E. L. Moore

This photo was among those in the E. L. Moore collection. For the longest time I wasn't sure what it was, so I refrained from posting it. But, while looking for photos of EVRR tunnel portals last night, I stumbled across this image from a larger Enskale & Hoentee RR photo that helped me put 2 and 2 together.
While the two don't exactly match, it suggests the upper image is of a newly constructed tunnel portal. I don't know the scale as there was nothing in the photo to compare it to. Could be HO, could be N.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Partial portal progress

I used a sharp, new X-acto knife blade and some sanding sticks to stair-step the portal abutments, and when that was done, they were given thin washes of grey, white and Tamiya Smoke to naturalize and tone down their colours. They’re looking better, but they’ll likely need a little more blending and weathering once they’re installed.

And speaking of colours, I have no colour reference photos of the EVRR. No drugstore processed snapshots, no Kodachromes, no Ektachromes, no Fuji Chromes, no torn out photo-spreads from magazines, no nothin’. I don't even know if any exist, but be that as it may, this is a world-wide call: if you have any and could share, please leave a comment. There’s no money involved, but think of the glory :-) Maybe I should see if Vince has the time machine repaired. Until next time ….

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Try wood burning for tunnel portals!

E. L. Moore published 2 articles about using a woodburning pen as a modelling tool: Burn those models in the May '55 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, and Modeling with a burning tool in the July '62 issue of Model Railroader. The second one includes a photo of an EVRR stone tunnel portal as an example. That being the case I figured I'd pull out my woodburning pen and try making some N-scale tunnel portals.
I haven't used the pen in quite awhile. I think the last time was on one of the very first projects in the E. L. Moore in the 21st Century series. 
I decided to practice by building the river and road portal that appears under the EVRR's Rocky Ridge. The portal was sketched on a piece of 1/8 inch thick balsa and the openings were cut out prior to burning.
After burning in the mortar lines this is what it looked like. You can see it's more of a caricature of a portal than a true scale representation. Likely I could do better with a more precise initial sketch and a finer pen point, but this a model railroad in the old folk-art-style of construction, so I think it'll fit in.
After a bit of dry-brush painting with greys and browns, voila!
Then there was a little test fitting over the Rocky Ridge inlet and once satisfied that it fit, it was on to the mountain portals.
I printed out the MR '62 article and found that when I placed my loco on the image it was about the same size as the loco in the photo. From that and studying other photos of those stone portals I came up with some dimensions.
Both portals were drawn side-by-side with the intent of slicing them apart after burning. The track clearance is on the tight side given the clearances on the layout. If the rolling stock were longer than the old-time pieces that this layout uses, the portals would not be wide enough to accommodate them.
I had started the mountain portals I had gotten the hang of using the burning pen and things went a little faster. Once again, this is a caricature of a portal and not a model. 
For all the portals I used the 'pen' tip in the burning tool as it seemed to have the finest point of the lot I had on hand. Its edge was used to burn in the block sides.
After burning, the pieces were cut out in preparation for gluing on the abutments, which were made with the techniques shown above. 
As I worked on this little project I started to think that the woodburning pen is close to being the ultimate tool for folk-style model building. 

Let me backup a bit. I think E. L. Moore was the last and the best of what might be called the folk-art-style model railroaders. That approach to model railroading leans heavily on non-specialized materials and tools that can be found around the house or easily obtained at nearby stores. It doesn't completely forsake specialized components produced by the model railroading industry, but it's not dependent on them. 

The woodburning pen allows you to create, as E. L. Moore put it in his Model Railroader article, shingle or shake roofs, clapboard siding, brickwork (foundations and chimneys), stonework (foundations, chimneys, portals, bridge sides), platform planking, board siding, plank floors; simulating cracks, knotholes; aging surfaces; making sheathing for coach, caboose or boxcar.* With that capability you don't need to buy a lot of things on offer in the magazine ads. That makes woodburning economical, and a bit subversive as you're saving money, which was important for Mr. Moore as he had modest means, and bypassing the messaging of the advertisements. These go against the prevailing culture.

I've often received feedback that finescale approaches, their materials, tools and practices, are the ones to be admired and pursued, and others, like those exemplified by E. L. Moore, are of little concern, and if continued, represent a regression and lack of understanding concerning what the hobby is about. Myself, I think there are different approaches or styles. Finescale and the desire for high fidelity is one approach - a very admirable one - but there are others. Frankly this idea of different styles didn't dawn on me until I was deep into the E. L. Moore story. I realized he was driven to express his thoughts and experiences of early 20th century life and railroading, but he was on the low end of society's slippery economic pole, so he got on with things with what he could readily access, but he didn't forsake making things as good and accurately as he possibly could - that wasn't abandoned or ignored. He was driven to express what he had to express for some reason known only to him. Would his work qualify as museum quality artifacts that could represent objective historical facts? No. Does that matter? 
[I've known for awhile that the back stretch will need to be widened with a piece of foam glued to the back edge. This proves it.]

Ok, I did take a stab at thinking about styles , although I didn't exactly think of them as styles, well before the E. L. Moore journey. Looking back, I don't completely agree with my original assessment in that post as the journey has taught me a lot. I didn't know folk-art-style existed and was a legitimate approach. I'm not happy with the term 'folk-art-style' because it conjures up images of basket weaving and hippies, but it's not far off from the stuff categorized in the mainstream art world's folk art category, so I'll hang on to it until something better comes along.

A question that I ask myself is if the so-called folk art style is actually a legitimate style, or just a historical phase that the hobby went through. It was the dominant style at one time because to proceed that was what one did, so it's historical origins can't be denied. Today we have options even though it doesn't seem that way from many of the companies or publications. I'm still pondering this one.

So, if one isn't predisposed to buying a lot of specialized model making materials, developing skills with the woodburning pen is a good thing. Although, I imagine woodburning techniques work best in HO and larger scales; but for caricatures, they're ok in N. 


* The brick walls of E. L. Moore's Firehouse model were made by scribing a brick pattern into sheets of balsa. Did he use a woodburning pen? Maybe, but I don't think so. Here's a detail shot of the brick pattern. It looks a little too clean for woodburning.