Monday, December 31, 2018

The R-100 airship in N scale?

We also paid a visit over the holidays to the Aviation and Space Museum out in the east end. I'm not going to give a trip report on all the interesting airplanes you'll see out there, but I will mention one particular curiosity: their model of the R-100 airship that flew to Canada from England and back again in 1930. In HO scale, the model would measure a whooping 8.3' - a little longer than the entire Alta Vista TC layout! - and in N-scale a more manageable 4.5'. The model seems closer to 4.5' than 8.3', so I'm putting my money on its scale being closer to N than HO. When we got home I hunted around for Nevil Shute's old autobiography called Slide Rule. The book has a few fascinating chapters about his time as chief 'calculator' on the R-100's construction team, and some insight into the disastrous crash of the R-100's sister ship, the R-101, where 48 of the 54 people onboard were killed.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Out-of-Service: Gone for coffee and a paper

I think that little roof over the side door needs a light. It's too dark there at night to make anyone feel safe.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Waiting for the evening bus

Toronto Street Railway horsecar #16

The renovated science and technology museum reopened in the later part of 2017. We've been meaning to go, but have always found an excuse not to. We made some time to visit over the Christmas holidays and were pleasantly surprised. I've known that they have a few massive steam locomotives on permanent display, but was surprised to find horsecar #16 from the old Toronto Street Railway* tucked away in a back corner as part of a special exhibit. Mike Filey, in his book Not A One-Horse Town: 125 Years of Toronto Streetcars that was published in 1986, notes that #16 was built in 1874 by the John Stephenson Company in New York City and was the only surviving horsecar of the 262 built for the TSR. He also mentions: In recent years, it was sent to the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa. Hopefully it will return home someday. The hope remains unfulfilled 32 years later.
*The Toronto Street Railway was a ancestor of the Toronto Transit Commission that operated a horse-drawn streetcar system from 1861 to 1891.

Friday, December 28, 2018

John, Earl, and Bert: An N-Scale Interpretation of Bert's Garage

Walls temporarily tilted up at Bert's Garage
I can’t say with any certainty what the attraction was that got me into making miniature buildings. I can only note that there were two small events that happened one summer that in retrospect may have marked the beginning of this lifelong interest.

My friend Rob and I were fanatically interested in slot cars. I think we were around twelve years old and he had a much older brother who worked at Eldon’s toy factory. They made 1/32 scale slot cars, and contrary to company policy his brother sneaked home slot cars that were rejected from the assembly line instead of tossing them in the trash. They came to Rob and we spent many happy hours restoring them to racing condition. Somehow Rob had also acquired a vast collection of Scalextric track, and one summer we decided to use it all and build the biggest layout we could. His house had a free-standing, wood frame three-car garage out back that was a relic from the time his parents used it to store the trucks used by their dry-cleaning business. The premature death of this father resulted in the business shutting down, and that left an old, empty wooden garage behind his house. Its floor was just the thing for hosting what we thought would be the world’s largest slot car race course. Naturally, it needed pit stops, garages, grandstands, timing towers and all the other buildings associated with the ‘60s and ‘70s racing scene. I jumped in with construction paper, glue, scissors and more ambition than talent and built everything I thought a race track needed. All of it crap, but great fun to build.

Sometime during that summer, when the race track was under construction, I stumbled across a copy of Model Railroader magazine while searching for the latest Detective comics at my favourite smoke shop. What grabbed my attention was Ben King's cover photo, but the article I found deep inside by some guy named E. L. Moore on how to build an HO scale model called Bunn's Feed and Seed was what set me up for a lifetime of building. I built a version of it in 1/32 scale, and even though it was cannibalized for parts before the fall was out, I eagerly awaited other issues and other model railroad magazines for more construction projects. I was hooked - hooked for life as it turned out.

But life being what it is, I more-or-less dropped out of making HO scale buildings once I started university and didn’t return until this century. If you're a regular reader you know I've written a lot about E. L. Moore, and to some extent about a few other model railroaders from his era whose speciality was building small buildings. I have to tell you that along the way I've developed a curiosity about the whole 20th century history of building little buildings. It looks like all the story's pieces are out there in plain sight, they just need to be stitched together, and once that's done, I'll bet the complete tale makes for some interesting reading.

Sliced from a larger image in the Dec '94 issue of MRJ
I'm not exactly sure where that tale should begin, or end for that matter, but it seems like John Ahern is the guy to start with. Unlike E. L. Moore, Mr. Ahern's story and legacy are well known. His Madder Valley Railway from the 1940s and 1950s, now housed at the Pendon Museum in England, is legendary, and his life's work with scenic model railways is well documented throughout extensive publications in the model railway press of the time. The Madder Valley showed what a scenic model railway was and what it could strive to become. Was his truly the first scenic model railway? I'm not completely sure. But, even if it wasn't, its impact was certainly significant. While reading my way through E. L. Moore's archives I had hoped to find some reference to John Ahern, or maybe some correspondence with him. I didn't, but it wasn't inconceivable, especially since E. L. Moore had a large personal library in the 1950s and appeared to be a voracious reader. The work of those two men seemed simpatico even though one lived and worked in the southern U.S.A and the other in England. Consider this: both loved building little buildings, both built model railroads that leaned to the scenic, both built plausible locomotives and rolling stock to meet their needs, and both had a similar humanistic approach to modelling. Well, I'll likely never know if there was a connection. The mystery is part of the fun.

Slice of screen-rip from Pendon video
Mr. Ahern's Bert's Garage seems like something E. L. Moore could have built had E. L. Moore been interested in automobiles - although, there are one or two Ford Model-Ts on his Elizabeth Valley RR, which seem out-of-place in its early 1900s setting. I thought I'd try and build Bert's in N-scale, using old-school methods, for possible inclusion on the EVRR tribute layout. And this being the 21st century, I thought I'd try some video along with the usual pictures and text. So, apologizes for the production values, but if it seems like a good thing, I'll keep going with it and try for improvements. That being said, get some popcorn, turn down the lights, and let's watch.

Here is a snippet of the elevations Mr. Ahern provides for Bert's Garage in his book, Miniature Building Construction, along with his brief explanation about constructing the main building.

Bert's celebrated establishment at Much Madder is shown in Fig. 72. This is a timber erection with corrugated-iron roof. The walls are painted green; the lettering, barge-boards, and window frames are white. The doors are made to slide, the runners at the top being boxed over. When the doors are fully open, the windows in them come directly in front of those in the wall sections so that the light is not impeded. Diagram D shows how the front corner-posts project forward of the walls, so as to be flush with the doors. The lean-to at the side contains a tiny office, with stove-pipe, an even smaller store, and a lavatory. The lamp over the entrance is made of a glass bead and a pressed metal shirt-stud, the wires being secured in a block of wood glued inside the gable. The reader can let himself go to his heart's content in the matter of petrol and tyre advertisements.

The implication in not showing the back wall is that there're no doors or windows or any special whatnot on it. I decided to make the back wall the same as the front, with large doors for driving in cars. This allows for cars to enter one end and leave through the other. It'll add a little more work to the project, but I think it'll also add interest as it allows for scenes at either end. I'm also planning on having a removable roof a la E. L. Moore, along with an inside light and maybe a skylight, to show off the insides when the roof is on. Not too sure what'll do about gas pumps; maybe there won't be any. You know, maybe it would lend itself to 21st century updating: switch the name from Bert's to Elon's, slap some solar panels on the roof, install some charging stations out front, and you're ready for the electric car business :-)
Ok, enough with the jokes, let's get going. I drew all four walls in a continuous strip on a piece of the kleenex box card. The front and back walls are 22' wide, 10' at the eves, and 19' tall at the peak. The side walls are 25' long.
Then the window and door openings were cut out using a sharp blade and a steel edge.
Vertical boards were scribed on. I used a scribing tool that I forgot to show in the video :-( but one could use the back edge of the x-acto knife instead - I've done that many times. Board spacing isn't precise and I did whatever looked about right.
Next thing is to cut the wall strip free. 
I then chose to slice the strip into individual walls. On Dilly's I simply folded the walls into a box and continued on from there. On this project I'm going to detail the interior a little, and individual walls allow me to do that easier than if they were folded into a box. An alternative is to keep the strip and detail the walls before folding which is what I did on Cal's Cabbage, but that was in HO scale. There's no right or wrong way.
Here's what the inside surfaces look like. No worries, they'll be painted white once some framing detail's been added.
At this stage I sliced some thin strips from the sheet wood you saw in the video and used it, along with some larger stripwood, to build up some faux framing on the inside wall surfaces. Nothing is to scale or rigorously prototypical - the idea is to simply suggest framing so things seem to make sense if you were to glance inside when the lights are on.
While taking a break from framing, I cut the walls for the small office that's built onto one of the side walls. Those end pieces are just 4' wide, and the long wall measures 14.5'. I think there's supposed to be a toilet in there, so I'll have to figure out what to do detail-wise - if this were an E. L. Moore build, he'd have an outhouse strategically positioned nearby instead :-)
There it is, more-or-less all framed. The office is going to have a wood floor so there's a bit of space in its framing at floor-level to accommodate that. The ends on the main building need a little more truss work, but I'll tackle that when I work on the roof.
The walls were temporarily tilted up to see how things were looking. They'll need to painted, have window frames added, windows glazed and lettering applied before gluing them together.

I'm not sure when I'll continue this project once Christmas vacation is over. With this model I was interested in giving video a go, writing my 'secret origins' story on how I got into making model buildings, and trying a little something by Mr. Ahern. If I can find the time, I'll continue and post another instalment. As Mister X would say, so little time, so much to do :-)

Thursday, December 27, 2018

MR's 85th seen through 50th coloured glasses

Vince asked me if I'd bought a copy of Model Railroader's 85th anniversary edition. I hadn't, but I went out to a local bookstore to get one. And one was all they had left. It was crammed at the very back of the shelf behind some Finescale Modeller special edition. 

The 85th strikes me as rather ordinary in comparison to the celebratory 50th anniversary edition. 

The 50th anniversary issue is etched in my memory. When it came out in 1984, it was a thick, fat issue loaded with goodness: 266 pages of dense type and photos compared to 98 of more loosely spaced text and photos in the 85th. I'd forgotten to buy a 50th when it first hit the news stands, but did eventually get one before they were gone. A few days later I had to go on a business trip with my boss to Dayton, Ohio. I took the 50th with me to read. On the trip back I flew on some regional carrier that went bankrupt long ago. It was two hops back home, and I had to change planes somewhere in Pennsylvania. It was winter, and from my seat in the terminal I watched the baggage vehicle race with the luggage from one plane to the other. It made a tight turn at speed and a stack of luggage fell off a trailer onto the snowy tarmac. I wasn't sure if all the luggage was recovered because my flight was called and I had to go. I got to Toronto, but my luggage didn't. I was upset because I had to put my 50th MR in my luggage. Aaargh! I didn't care about my clothes, only about losing the 50th :-) Well, there was a happy ending: late the next day the airline found my bag, and delivered it by courier to the house. Clothes and 50th were intact. Crisis adverted :-)

So, I've been walking down memory lane with the 50th. Some things are striking. Take this prediction by Russ Larson, one time editor of MR, on page 169,

Publishing 2008-2033: Electronic medium becomes dominant; Print medium becomes obsolete.

Great stories, great photos. I hope MR makes it to 90. But, I have a feeling that Mr. Larson's prediction is going to come to full fruition and video will displace the print edition by then, and MR is heavily promoting video subscriptions. Only time will tell. If I'm still here in the blog-o-sphere in 5 years, we'll touch base on this :-)

Street painting

For purposes of staging some photos of 47 Ocean Blvd, I decided to try painting a section of the roads and sidewalks at the corner of Ocean and Cedar Heights - which is near the Neville Park streetcar turn-around. The roads and sidewalks aren't looking too bad - the values seem correct - but they need some more work.  The layout's chaos right now, but I see that as a good sign since it means to me that construction has re-started :-)

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

47 Ocean Blvd: Kibri 38222 is finished!

Finally, after 7 months of on-and-off work, the apartment is done! I temporarily set it up at the corner of Ocean Blvd and Cedar Heights Ave to see how it looked. I see lots of opportunity for weathering, street furniture and other open air stuff, but it's not looking too bad. 

There's quite a number of parts in this kit, and it isn't a shake-the-box project like W. E. Snatchem. It could be built box-stock, but I've made a number of small changes to make it more at home in a Toronto-Ottawa setting.
The assembly instructions are good, so I won't go into a play-by-play of how I built it. But as you can see in the photo I still managed to install a wall component upside-down. It turns out that it didn't matter to the structure; although, if you're familiar with this kit you'll note something looks a little odd. I leave it as a test for you to identify the part :-)

As for changes I made to Toronto-Ottawa-ize it for the Alta Vista TC, here's a list,

1. Painted the walls a common bricky-red. Window and door frames were painted a contrasting green.

2. The store signs were changed to common ones I've seen here over the years and might make sense as the store-level on this sort of building. There's a dry cleaner, convenience store, five-and-dime, and cigar store. The kit's fru-fru window coverings were not used. Instead, pieces of white and off-white paper were cut and installed. They make the windows appear more like those you'll see in real life. Well, ok, a couple of the kit's paper curtains were used as well as some slices of gift wrap to provide a little contrast in the windows and account for human eccentricity :-)

3. The kit's base wasn't used because I wanted the building to sit flush with the sidwwalk. The base would have introduced a step that I feel would appear out of place. Some strip styrene had to be added to the foundation to fill holes left by the missing base.

4. The interior scenes are photos sourced from the internet and seem like ones I might see here. The interior pictures included in the kit are a little too sketch-like for my tastes.

5. A large air conditioner was added to the roof as were quite a number of items from Walthers roof details accessory kit, #933-3733. The items I chose to add had nothing to do with reality, and were stuck on to give the somewhat barren roof what I felt was an air of complexity and an interesting pattern.

6. The kit's exterior light fixture mouldings seemed a little too ornate and were left off.
Some extra work was done to add interior LED lighting so the stores don't look abandoned and the apartments seem lively at night. 
There are 4 light strips: 3 are inside styrene boxes, and the 4th was glued on top of the stores' light box, pointed upward to give some general interior light to the front windows. Window curtains and pieces of black card have been used to diffuse and block light to provide a pattern. 
The stairwell light boxes have blue filters on front - made by inking some clear plastic with a blue Sharpie pen - to add colour. 
The roof is removable so I can add more lights or service those already installed.
In the end, like all kits I build, there were a few parts leftover that I have no idea where they are supposed to go :-)

Friday, December 21, 2018

What's the Intent?

I know, Boxing Day isn't until mid next week, but I was reading Galen's blog and he posed an interesting question about laying out the intent of a layout. Well, more precisely, he read this insightful post at Mike Cougill's blog about intent and model railroading, gave some serious thought to the intent of his own work, and kindly asked if I had any thoughts on the subject. I had to think about it a bit because I did, but haven't attempted to write them down. Fractured sleep has been my companion for the last little while, so I decided to put the demon to work and write down some thoughts on the intent of the Alta Vista TC. What follows doesn't apply to my E. L. Moore related activities, or the Elizabeth Valley tribute layout, or my interests in model railroading in earlier times.

Before we dive into the who, what, when, where and why, here’s my short answer: 

The Alta Vista TC is a slice of the Toronto-Ottawa-Los Angeles that lives in my mind.

The long answer isn’t so easy to state, but I’ll give it a try.

In this blog I don’t usually discuss things I’m not that interested in, but thought I should make an exception in this case. My guidance before going further is that if you read something below that you like but I don't, I'm not trying to insult you, I'm just trying to clarify what I'm not into so my intent is a little clearer. So, what follows are my interests – the building blocks of my intent – mixed up in a stew and seasoned a little with the chili peppers of discontent.

I’m not much of a model railroader. I like trains. I like travelling on them. I’m not interested operating models of them. I have no interest in simulating the railroad business. Timetables and rules and schedules leave me cold. Those things spell day-job to me, and I’m not interested in pursuing them as leisure. Yeah, business and profit, with all their rules and schedules and rigour, are the reasons railroads exist. I like model railroads. It's just that I don't care if they properly simulate something real. I just live with the contradiction.

I like streetcars much better than trains. I find the conventional advice about taking up streetcar modelling – the models are actually powered by electricity like the real thing, the track work is tight and constrained like the real thing, the models actually pickup power from an overhead wire like the real thing – irrelevant. If you like those things, I’m not dissing you; everyone should understand and pursue their own interests; I'm much impressed by people who pursue those aspects; I’m just saying those modelling interests aren't mine, that’s all. I like streetcars because I liked riding them when I was growing up and living in Toronto. I like the subways and buses there too. I like the light rail system here in Ottawa and the one in Los Angeles. I was primed to like them because of Toronto.

My favourite aspect of model railroading is making buildings, staging scenes and  taking pictures. As I said, I’m not much of a model railroader, and strictly speaking, I guess I’m not a model railroader at all. I like model railroads, but I’m not into modelling actual railroads. Model railroading is the gateway that lead me to what I do. Neither am I a model tractioneer - or whatever it’s called. Building complex street track and installing overhead has no intrinsic interest to me – well, maybe just enough to get the scenes I want to see; it’s just that it’s not my focus. Believe me, I find the work of others on those things fascinating, but I couldn't do it. Hopefully I've repeated myself enough on the subject of the traditional reasons to get into 'traction modelling' to get it out of my system :-)

I’m interested in the lost urban world. Lost to money and gentrification and the alternate universe we call the internet. There’s a lot that I’m glad is gone; however, much is gone that I lament. No internet browsing technology can replace the physical pleasure of riding a railed machine along a street to a remote place, getting off and walking the walk to wherever, scouring the books and records and movies and stuff on offer, finding unexpected things, meeting, looking, exploring, eating and talking, and taking home the bounty. And doing it again and again, year after year, with some new variation on the theme each time. But that’s all gone. Ok, just more-or-less all gone - I'm certainly not going to write about the remaining places where I can still find a little of it. The sterile seductive glow of the display screen can’t come close to replacing it. Maybe the new world is so drunk with efficiency that staring at a glowing slab in one’s hand is the only proper response to its banality.

I’m interested in places. I didn’t just ride the streetcars, buses and subways of the TTC for the fun of it. I had places to go. The TTC exists to take people to places. I focus on places. And they don't necessarily have to be real places, they can be speculative as long as they seem to fit the feeling I'm after. Real or imagined, places must dominate. And they must have the right vibe.

I'm interested in the feeling of a place. Or at least the feeling that comes to me when I'm there. With Toronto it's mainly nostalgia. The Toronto in my mind isn't exactly the one you'll find today when you roam its streets. With Los Angeles it's unrequited love. With Ottawa it's refuge and time travel to pockets of places that seem like things I recognize, but don't properly appreciate - I don't really understand Ottawa in it's own right and therefore have mixed impressions about the vibe it projects. Getting the feeling right on the Alta Vista TC is more important than the traditional desire for high detail and weathering. Those are parts of achieving the right vibe, but they are subservient and not primary. Paul Michael Smith's Elgin Park is the exemplar in my mind for modelling brilliance in the service of vibe. 

I'm interested in Noir fiction. Mainly classic crime Noir: Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, Claire DeWitt, Mister X and their fictional brethren. Noir strikes a chord with me. Noir is the flip side of the good vibe of places and exploration the city has to offer. Noir seems to me an urban thing. There might be rural Noir and country Noir - I haven't studied Noir that closely to know. Raymond Chandler made Los Angeles the birthplace of what I think of as classic Noir. Toronto is Noir even though its residents might deny it. Ottawa isn't Noir just yet, but with the sharp increase in gun crime it's on its way. At present it's more Bureaucratic Gothic combined with doses of Techno Thriller. The Pale King meets Cryptonomicon. Some aspect of Noir should be present in the Alta Vista TC. I'm not sure how to accomplish it.

I’m interested in light. Have been for a long time. Light was just about the only subject in high school physics that I actually enjoyed. As a boy, one of my earliest memories is of walking to a local convenience store to buy a jug of milk for my mum, and along the way wondering why how the same light comes into everyone’s eyes, but everyone seemed to react differently to things. Crazy, I know, and I don’t think I summarized it quite like that as a boy, but that’s the modern gist of it. I knew light came into my eye, somehow did something in my brain and the world appeared. And that world didn't appear the same to everyone. Light was the key, but I didn’t know what to. All I can say today is that buildings and places must provide light and be shaped by it or they'll appear dead.

I’m interested in watercolour painting’s infinite ability to represent the effects of light. I don’t use light enough in my work and I need to. It’s something I want to work on. One thing that strikes me is how flat and uniform a lot of model railroad photos are. That’s good for studying details and such, but things aren’t illuminated like that in the world, or at least in the world I see.

I'm interested in being able to look into and through buildings and see things along the path from outside to inside to outside again. I once thought of this as Selective Staging. I don't want model buildings to always be opaque structures that you must look around. A bit of that is good, but not every building is a fortress.

I'm interested in walking. Streetcars are an aid to walking. There needs to be a network of interconnected sidewalks to reflect that reality. On the Lost Ocean Line I deliberately made sure that sidewalks connected all the places, and the same will hold for the Alta Vista TC.

I'm interested in spacing. That is, making sure the roads and sidewalks are wide enough, the gaps between buildings and objects make sense, the arrangements of people seem natural, and so on. And all that needs to be balanced against the confines of a small layout. 

I'm interested in water. Ottawa is defined by two rivers; Toronto by a great lake; Los Angeles by an ocean. Strangely, I'm an air sign. Although I'm trained in aeronautics, I'm attracted to water. So much for astrology. To me a layout needs a water feature, no matter how small. It could be just a fountain or even a puddle.

All of the above is a lot of intent for one little model world to carry. There's enough for several projects. The thing to note is that they aren't a list of deliverables, just a list of guiding principles.

Well, that's the stew. If I could lay it all out precisely in text - properly describe the vibe - maybe I wouldn't find modelling so compelling.