Sunday, June 30, 2019

You won't find omnivagant in the spaghetti aisle

Omnivagant interurban layout designed by Bill Schopp*
Omnivagant: A track plan that goes everywhere and connects everyplace.

Usage: Each neighbourhood on his omnivagant streetcar layout had a least one car-stop.

Source: The word was first used to describe a trackplan in a story about a layout design called the Decatur, Jackson & Newton by Linn Westcott in the May 1940 issue of Model Railroader magazine.

A prominent editor in the model railroading press once suggested to me that the use of omnivagant in Mr. Westcott's article was a mere typographic error of the time. However, the line where it's used in the story, Provision is made for point-to-point, once-around, triple loop, omnivagant (wandering anywhere and everywhere), and switching operations, suggests that it was no error as Mr. Westcott included the accepted non-railroading definition in the sentence. Also, it's noted that although omnivagant is an archaic word, it has a history and evolved into our extravagant.

Omnivagant is not to be confused with spaghetti, which is a trackplan created for the sole purpose of covering a layout with as much track as possible to maximize train, engine, and car carrying capacity. Spaghetti layouts often become so through unrestrained additions of track over a period of time.

Omnivagant track plans are often characteristic of electric street and electric interurban model railways. When applied to traditional steam and diesel layouts they can devolve into spaghetti trackplans. Not all electric street and electric interurban model railways need be omnivagant.

*This plan appears in the 1957 3rd printing of Louis Hertz's The Complete Book of Model Railroading.

from The Dictionary of Non-Existent Model Railroad Terms, 1st ed.,1959.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Roof of E. L. Moore's Elizabethton Depot

I looked up some shots of the roof interior for E. L. Moore's Elizabethton Depot just to get a little better look at the colours used under the eaves.

I've enhanced this photo a little to get rid of as much shadowing as I could without adding too much distortion.

One thing I've admired about this model is the way the lights were wired up. Mr. Moore has added those neat metal strips that make contact when the roof is slid over the end walls.

And look at than nice room on the right. Table, chairs, and a rug that really ties the whole thing together Big Lebowski style.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Wall-roof joint trim on the Elizabethton Depot

In a recent post about his Fallburgh / Pine Creek Park station, Galen discussed the possible need for wall trim where the end walls meet the roof

I mentioned the model is very similar to E. L. Moore's Elizabethton Depot - they're based on the same "prototype". I had some photos of it, but the images I posted all had the roof-wall joint line in deep shadow.

I went through my photos to see if I could find some better views, and do a little image enhancement on what I could find.

As you can see, Mr. Moore didn't apply any trim on the walls where they meet the roof.

And this is the depot's outhouse. Similar construction; no trim on that building either.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I'll take Casualize for 100 Alex

Casualize: To intentionally make a model more endearing than impressive.

Usage: He decided to casualize the coach model to make it feel more old-timey.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

"That would drive me crazy."

Over the last week I've worked on this project for only about 30 minutes or so. At this rate it's one of the slowest projects I've ever worked on, and might not finish until around Christmas if I'm not careful :-)

What have I been doing? Lining the window bars. 

The first thing I did was trim the glass pieces to fit the frames. As we saw earlier, they were too long as I think the manufacturer used windows from some other kit and didn't make properly sized ones for this kit.

I applied a piece of Tamiya masking tape to mark the cut line, and then used a razor saw to trim the piece along the tape's edge.

Black Sharpie pens were used to ink the moulded on ridges that delineate the window bars. I inked both the front and back so the interior view would look ok, and to give the bars a little extra feeling of solidity.

Side note: I bought a green Sharpie oil pen as I thought I'd try for green bars. I couldn't get the hang of using the pen and went back to using the black ones. 

After inking, the windows were glued into the frames. You can see the lower edges are rough and unfinished. Although the manufacturer provides some power equipment for the inside, it's clear it's just a rudimentary interior, and wasn't meant to get the scrutiny this one will. 

I've started to trim the lower parts of the walls to make everything look neat and plausible on the inside. Next time I'll post some pictures on trimming the lower sections.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

A bit of base

I'm trying to keep this project going and spent a little time preparing the base.

It doesn't have a nasty piece of sidewalk to cut off as is common with this sort of kit, but it did have a circular mold indentation in the centre of the floor that needed filling. My puttying job is a little rough, but there'll likely be a dinosaur standing on that spot, so it won't be noticeable :-)

That hole in the upper right is part of the kit, and it's for inserting wiring for lights. I plan on building an overhead light fixture, so that will come in handy. That concrete coloured square in the upper left is the patio area. Yes, the stock kit has an outer area that will come in quite handy as a patio - as I've said before, this is a rather nice kit.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Semi-circular windows installed

I buckled down and cut and fit the semi-circular windows. I was having some sort of psychological block with these because what needs to be done is to cut the window shapes from a thin sheet of acetate and carefully glue them into those quite fine frames without blobbing glue everywhere. 

I wasn't sure how to do this.

Late on Sunday afternoon I threw caution to the wind and jumped in.

I took a scrap of graphite paper, placed it carbon-side up over the window opening, then put the clear plastic sheet that came with the kit on top, and carefully rubbed the window sheet along the frame with the blunt end of my X-acto knife until a thin outline appeared on the window. From there it was just cutting and trimming along the outline until the 'glass' fit in the frame. A little Micro Kristal Klear spread thinly inside the frame holds the 'glass' in place. Repeat for all windows and presto! One of the smaller frames has a little too much glue, but I'll use it on the back patio wall. The other windows should be easier.

This kit is quite decent until one gets to the window stage where it jumps from being a beginner/intermediate level project to an advanced one. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Cal's Cabbage Co. on the backlot

It was nice and sunny on the weekend and I took a few minutes to shoot a couple of pictures of Cal's Cabbage Co. outside. Compare to the relatively calmer staged shots I made indoors back in 2014.

Intense sunlight brings out every little detail, whether intentionally added or not. I see a corner of a solar panel has lifted and needs to be re-glued, not to mention some skewed uprights, and their very coarse balsa texture. 

And on the bottom, out of view, I need to re-solder a couple of light leads that got damaged when Cal's was removed from the old layout. I'll do a few repairs and have another go another day.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Paul Detlefsen, Legendary Matte Painter & Legendary Model Railroader

My reading last week saw the name Paul Detlefsen pop up. A few years back Vince told me about a Paul Detlefsen print his father owned, and this lead into a whole discussion about Mr. Detlefsen's model railroad. Yes, this artist who as NZPete notes as one of Hollywood's greatest matte painters, and Wikipedia claims that by 1969 80% of Americans had seen some example of his artwork, was also a great model railroader, probably as great, if not greater than, John Allen, and true to form, there is no mention of this in Wikipedia

I briefly touched on Mr. Detlefsen's model railroad back in 2016 in a post about wordless cover art on the model railroad magazines of the '60s. But go deeper and take a look at the story The ride of your life! by Linn Westcott and John Allen in the December '61 issue of Model Railroader about Mr. Detlefsen's layout. As for layout stats, it's in O scale with 1200 feet of track and 48 inch radius curves. This thing was big. And, I'd argue, with scenery possibly more spectacular than that seen on the Gorre & Daphetid, which was the high water mark in layouts at the time. Although, given that Paul Detlefsen and John Allen were contemporaries, and Mr. Allen's layout was widely published in the model railroading press, I wonder how much influence, if any, one had on the other.

Two things in the story that jumped out at me:

… Paul doesn't paint a rock or a mountain or trainshed roof. He paints the light that falls onto these things and then bounces to his eye. [Italics are Linn Westcott's]

None of the models such as those in the industrial district are modelled to exact scale. Instead Paul tried to get a credible visual effect but used distortion freely to make the most of crowded space.

There's no analysis about how to implement those strategies by mere mortals in either this story or in future stories, as there were no future stories. Maybe that Dec '61 story is all there is about the layout. Some more investigation is called for.

Paul Detlefsen is the gentleman in the dark jacket*
Apparently the layout was built in Paul Detlefsen's Southern California home. At the time the article was written Mr. Detlefsen had moved to Hawaii, and the house was empty, except for the layout. In the Mar '62 issue of MR, it's reported that the family who eventually bought the house gave the layout to the Travel Town Museum in Los Angeles' Griffith Park. I'm hoping to get out to Pasadena in the fall, and maybe I can make a side trip to Los Angeles to see for myself what's at the museum.

*That image of the models and matte used in the RKO logo was sourced and snipped from NZPete's Matte Shot. Paul Detlefsen created the cloud backdrop used in that famous logo.

Ottawa Streetcar Movie Collection

This is the best video of Ottawa streetcars I've seen so far. Ok, the superimposed text is a bit annoying, but lots of great footage. I love the giant windows on the later streetcars. The video starts off a little slow, but around the 2 minute mark it picks up as soon as In the Mood kicks in, so I'm gonna drop you off in 1941 with The Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Contemplating windows

I glued the remaining window frames into the walls, but left the door frames free because I'll need them to make the curved 'glass' inserts above the openings. Believe it or not, the only fitted 'glass' shapes provided are for the large, arched windows. The others have to be cut from a skimpy piece of sheet plastic. 

Also, I'm playing with ideas for painting the molded-on pane dividers on the large windows. I think I'll colour them - back and front - with a Sharpie permanent marker. The model needs 10 of those windows, and there are 12 in the kit, so I can do a little experimenting.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Model railroading's amateur scientist?

For some reason I can't explain I've thought of Bill Schopp as model railroading's amateur scientist. And that's using amateur in the good way. And I know, he was on the Railroad Model Craftsman staff, so he wasn't an amateur in the doesn't get paid way. He was an amateur in the C. L. Strong, Scientific American's The Amateur Scientist column way: a professional who writes on technical subjects for 'amateurs' in a sophisticated and engaging way. 

Bill Schopp in '68 at his new layout*
But according to John Page, one time editor of Model Railroader, Mr. Schopp had another side. In a Sept. '85 MR article of reminiscences, John Page noted that a number of Mr. Schopp's scratchbuilt trolleys that he saw when visiting the Schopp household in the early 1940s were built sloppily, even by the more permissive standards of that day ... but ... I realized they fascinated me. I found them endearing, even loveable. In place of precision they had something else very special. I suppose "character" or "personality" would be the word, and for all their construction shortcomings, they looked realistic and quite at home in their environment - which was a rather minimally finished layout. And Mr. Page further notes that the 6 wristwatches I mentioned in the earlier post were being worn to test their operation as Mr. Schopp had repaired them - he fixed watches as a sideline, and he could certainly build a neat model if he wanted to. Let's not forget Bill Schopp was the guy who's ideas inspired E. L. Moore's Molasses Mine.

*This picture was snipped from the lead picture to Bill Schopp's Slip Switchery that appeared in the Dec '68 issue of RMC. It's a very detailed technical article on using multiple Casadio slip switches. When I first saw this picture, the layout struck me as being a piece of lab equipment instead of a model railroad. Maybe it's the pondering, hands-on-hips stance combined with the control panel close by that made me think that. This probably isn't the layout John Page saw in the '40s as the caption says it's new, but the level of scenicking seems similar.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Bill Schopp and Streetcars through the Dowdy World

I’ve followed Michael Leddy’s Orange Crate Art for years, and have particularly enjoyed his Dowdy World posts. Dowdy World is his characterization of American culture as it was before certain forms of technology redefined everyday life. The dowdy world is a place with dictaphones, rotary phones, afternoon newspapers, "radio programs," and telegrams. In the dowdy world, a fountain pen is an everyday tool, not a jewel-laden collector's item. And given that Canada is America’s next door neighbour, there’s a certain applicability to life here during that time, but with some of its own planetary dynamics.

Model railroading saw its heyday in Dowdy World, coinciding as it did with the golden age of North American rail transportation. Although never a high-status pursuit, in that era model railroading was more a part of popular culture than it is today where it’s more of a specialist undertaking. Although, Dowdy World is celebrated in many of today’s model railroads.

Who was Dowdy World’s greatest model railroading writer? I’d say it was Bill Schopp, who according to his obituary in the June '74 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, wrote over 1000 articles on various model railroad subjects for Railroad Model Craftsman, Miniature Railroading, Toy Trains, Model Railroader and several British magazines. A few months later in Jan '75 it was reported in the RMC reader survey that in the most popular author category in fourth place despite fewer articles in recent times was the late Bill Schopp (and I know what you're thinking, E. L. Moore garnered fifth-place honors). He was probably the most prolific writer model railroading has produced, and, surprisingly, has no Wikipedia bio.

His most popular stories were likely those published under one of his nom de plumes, The Layout Doctor. Wearing that hat he proposed, critiqued, and analyzed just about every conceivable kind of model railroad layout. Prolific doesn’t begin to do justice to his energy and creativity. Here in the 21st century his designs might have a little too much spaghetti in them for our palates, but one tasty thing a lot of his track plans did have was an integrated electric streetcar or interurban line. In those days, streetcar lines were often suggested as additions to model railroads whose owners were getting a little bored with their conventional layouts. Mr. Schopp on the other hand would logically integrate them right from the get go. He was no stranger to the trolley pole.

Bill Schopp on the right, and George Allen on the left in the early '50s*
Early to mid Dowdy World was laced with electric streetcar and interurban lines. Mr Schopp knew that; us, not so much. Those lines were omnivagant, but nowhere near the levels brought to us by motorized cars and trucks. I don’t think we’ll see a Schoppian renaissance in model urban electric line layouts any time soon, but I remain smug in the knowledge that there was extensive electric city transportation long before Tesla, dowdy though it was :-)

*That image was snipped from a larger one in part 3 of George Allen's Tuxedo Junction series that appeared in the Dec. '52 issue of Model Railroader. Mr. Allen reports Mr. Schopp was attired in his 1,000 Mile Shirt, accessorized with two patent pending wristwatches: for HO and O scale time! Interestingly, in the Sept. '85 issue of MR, legendary editor John Page mentions in Bill Schopp's trolleys and Jim Dechert's "Fatso" that when he visited Bill Schopp's home in the 1940s that Mr. Schopp was wearing 6! wristwatches, 3 on each arm - no mention of what scale the time was :-)

Tuesday, June 4, 2019


I'm thinking a lot about model photographs these days, and why some strike more of a chord with me than others. For lack of a better term I just refer to photos that click with me as having a vibe. For the longest while it's been the late Michael Paul Smith's photos that have vibe. Many model railroad photos leave me cold. I'm sure one thing it has to do with is light. Model railroad photos are mainly taken indoors with outdoor lighting simulated, but Mr. Smith's daytime scenes were shot outdoors in natural light. 

That bank photo I posted a couple days ago was my attempt a few months ago to photograph a finished model using an LED light that claimed to simulate daylight. It seems to be heading in the right direction, but it's not there yet. The funny thing about that photo is what caught my eye when I saw it again was the curb at the street corner looked about right as did the tone of the sidewalk. Yeah, the sidewalk, not the building :-)

Anyway, I need to do a lot of tests shooting pictures outside to see if I can find the vibe I'm looking for. Over there is a test I tried with my rather old International Harvester Scout II build-up. I picked it simply because it was on the top of my shelf and was easy to take down :-) Natural light does indeed show up every flaw and compromise, but I feel I'm on the way to something.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Installed some window frames

After spraying with green paint, the brick sections at the bottom of those large windows were painted to match the rest of the walls. Once dry, I eagerly installed the frames in one wall to see how things were shaping up. So far, so good. Although, I see some annoying glue threads that'll need to be cleaned up.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Painting Window Frames

There are a lot of windows on this little model.

I've been spending some time clipping, sanding, and test fitting the window and door frames. After, I taped them to some cedar shims in preparation for painting.

I sprayed all the parts with Tamiya TS-91 Dark Green - in the setting sun the colour doesn't look much like what comes out of the can, but trust me :-) in normal light, it does.

Both sides were sprayed since you'll be able to look inside the building. 

I'm thinking it's going to be a little tricky gluing the glass into the door frames, and into the doors, because they are so fine, but that's a task for next time.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Back to Bank

I was going through some photos today and when I got to the bank pictures I started thinking this one was a bit better than the one I used in the post about finishing up that project. The building is a little more forthright and imposing in this head-on view.