Friday, January 31, 2020

Atlas teasers

I was rummaging around the internet and came across these two Atlas kits. What made them jump out at me is the Warehouse Kit on the left is Rob Corriston's Nostalgic Warehouse that was marketed by AHM as kit #5831, Freight Station, and Johnsons Inc. Chemical Products is another boxing of what was AHM's kit #5839, Machine Shop. I was surprised to find these kits being marketed by Atlas, and I'm wondering if they might have marketed any of the original E. L. Moore kits. Likely, it's just news to me, but the search goes on.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Model Engineer's star turn in Motherless Brooklyn

I'm sleep deprived and have some sort of nasty cold or something - no, not the one that starts with C that's freaking out the world - so my mind is stirred up. I thought I'd try and ease the fire by watching Motherless Brooklyn. Things were going good, but then around the 35 minute mark what do I see than none other than 2 copies of the British magazine The Model Engineer tacked to a newsstand wall. They're those 2 blue magazines on the left, at about middle height.

Me being me, I had to try and figure out what issues they were. The all-knowing internet suggests the one hanging at an angle with some sort of beam engine on the cover is #2770, from June 24 1954, and the one above it and to the left is #2747, from January 14, 1954. 

The wikipedia entry for the movie says the story is set in 1957, so the newsstand is apparently dealing in old back issues of British magazines :-) I might have outfitted the set with old issues of Railroad Model Craftsman as it was being published out of New Jersey at that time :-) But, maybe since civil engineering is a sub-theme of the movie, flashing the The Model Engineer title seemed a good subliminal message of some sort, and since Alec Baldwin's character, Moses Randolph, was said to not like railroads as he couldn't get a piece-of-the-action, the appearance of RMC might undercut other themes :-) There also seems to be a lot of home repair booklets for sale. There might be a lot of DIYers in the neighbourhood, or maybe they're just another subtle message as demolition and deliberate building degradation are another theme :-) Yikes! Set decoration is fraught with problems :-)

It looks like 2 more issues are for sale in the stand's end rack, or maybe they're just the same 2 repositioned for the new shot.

Reading material concerns aside, it's a good movie. I also enjoyed reading the book many years ago. I seem to recall carrying it with me everywhere I went until I finished it. At one point a woman saw me reading it in my optometrist's waiting room and commented that it must be a real sentimental tearjerker with a title like that. How wrong she was, but go find out for yourself.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Studio Model at the Hollywood Heritage Museum

Studio Model overview from above the front gates
We were in Los Angeles last week, and one afternoon we took a little side trip to see the vintage miniature Hollywood diorama at the Hollywood Heritage Museum.

It turns out the majority of the diorama is housed off-site at the museum's annex on Hollywood Boulevard. The annex wasn't open when we visited, but there was a module on display at the museumthe Studio Model, and it was certainly worth dropping by.

To recap a bit, in the 1930s Joseph Pelkofer, a cabinet maker, and a team of around 25 built a diorama - maybe layout would be a better term - of central Hollywood as it was at the time. The layout measured around 11' x 12', and included 450 or so buildings. It's currently being restored by the museum. 

Section of wild west backlot scene
Apparently the Studio Model doesn't represent any particular Hollywood studio, but was meant to illustrate the main elements that comprise one. The miniature buildings are quite well executed, but to me the most interesting items are the back lot sets which include a wild west town, a winter scene, ruins, a sea port from the days of sail, and what looks like a desert scene.

It's not clear what the scale is, but I'd say it's definitely smaller than HO; maybe around TT (1:120); the figures seemed a little too tall for N (1:160). 

There's a lot more film memorabilia in the museum than this module, and the museum building itself is a piece of Hollywood history. The staff were friendly and helpful, and didn't mind thoughtfully answering my odd questions. It's a fascinating place to visit.

I did a little searching to see if I could find anymore information about Joe Pelkofer and his Hollywood layout. Nothing turned up in the Model Railroader archive, but I wouldn't be surprised to find something in Model Craftsman, although I don't have many issues from the '30s.

One interesting detour showed up in Popular Mechanics. In the July 1938 issue they've highlighted on the cover a story about a huge layout built on a Hollywood sound stage for a movie then in production. They don't name the movie, but after a little digging it turns out to be something called Four's a Crowd that was released in 1938. This seems like an A-list feature as it stars Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Rosalind Russell, and Patrick Knowles. The giant layout isn't owned and operated by any of that four, no, it's the domain of actor Walter Connolly, who plays an eccentric millionaire. 

Lucky for us the movie is available online. You get the first glimpse of the layout around the 17 minute mark, and it doesn't fail to impress.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Work continues on modifying the layout table

I was working on the layout table when I heard a familiar guitar twang and called over to Cal, "Can you turn it up?"

My pappy said, "Son, you're gonna' drive me to drinkin'

If you don't stop drivin' that Hot Rod Birney!"

Cal put down his paper, reached for the radio's volume knob and gave it a twist.

Have you heard this story of the hot rod race?
When PCCs and Birneys was settin' the pace
That story is true, I'm here to say
I was drivin' that Safety Car

It's got GE motors and it's really souped up
That single truck body makes it look like a pup
It's got twin grid resistors, uses them all
It's got overdrive, just won't stall

With a K-63 controller and single wire contact
With copper armature coils you can really get lost
It's got safety brakes, but I ain't scared
The wheels are good, breakers fair

Pulled out of San Pedro late one night
The moon and the stars was shinin' bright
We was rollin' up Grapevine Hill
Passing streetcars like they was standing still

All of a sudden in a wink of an eye
A PCC passed us by
I said, "Boys, that's a mark for me!"
By then its taillight was all you could see

Now the fellas was ribbin' me for bein' behind
So I thought I'd make the Birney unwind
Put both hands on the crank and man alive
I shoved it on down into overdrive

Wound it up to a hundred-and-ten
My speedometer said that I hit top end
My hands were glued like lead to the grip
That's all there is and there ain't no more

Now the boys all thought I'd lost my sense
And telephone poles looked like a picket fence
They said, "Slow down! I see spots!
The lines on the road just look like dots"

Took a corner; sideswiped a tram
Crossed my fingers just for luck
My fenders was clickin' the guardrail posts
The guy beside me was white as a ghost

Sparks was comin' from off of the wire
When I started to gain on that PCC
Knew I could catch him, I thought I could pass
Don't you know by then we'd be low on sand

We had flames comin' from off of the rails
Feel the tension. Man! What a ride!
I said, "Look out, boys, I've got a license to fly!"
And that PCC pulled over and let us by

Now all of a sudden she started to knockin'
And down in the truck she started to rockin'
I looked in my mirror; a red light was blinkin'
The cops was after my Hot Rod Birney!

They arrested me and they put me in jail
And called my pappy to throw my bail
And he said, "Son, you're gonna' drive me to drinkin'
If you don't stop drivin' that Hot Rod Birney!" *

*You're right, rhyming is not my forte, so apologies to the great Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Bug-Caddy Conjecture

Bug / Rolls-Royce kit from Revell's 1974-75 catalog
I've been writing about kitbashing a lot recently, and one thing I should have written in this post is that I have this bit set in my head that true kitbashing has a degree of wildness about it. Wildness being, going off the ranch, veering down some side-street, pursuing something in your mind no matter how unconventional. Kitbashing to make buildings bigger, or build replicas of prototypes that aren't commercially available are honourable and useful pursuits, but they seem more instrumental in their goals. They aren't wild. They aren't exploratory. Every time I see a kitbash, the Kim Adams definition of kitbashing sluices through my brain,

All my work is what I would call "kit-bashing." This is a common term in the model industry: you cross breed a Volkswagen with a Cadillac, and you've got a kit bash. 

Crossbreeding a Bug with a Caddy, now that's kitbashing! I think have this biased view because I first learned about kitbashing in the model car magazines of the late '60s and early '70s, which were far from the sedate world of model railroading. Maybe it was just a demographic thing. The model car press was focused on pre-teen boys, whose tastes are notoriously unrefined and which I was at the time, and the model railroad press was more sophisticated and oriented to adults. 

So, casting kitbashing in terms of crossbreeding a Bug and Caddy makes some sense to me. So much so I propose a test, The Bug-Caddy Conjecture, which is this: if in an assemblage, found components are brought together in a new and surprising manner, then kitbashing has occurred. What constitutes new and surprising? Well, it's not an exact test, it's just a conjecture, just something to get the brain cells asking questions.
Maybe surprisingly, I think Art Curren just squeaks a pass in The Bug-Caddy Conjecture. Ok, Mr. Curren's work isn't out on the same limb as Mr. Adams', but they both worked on creating new stuff, not just extensions of existing things. Mr. Curren's work is far mellower, and some did slide out of the outskirts of the Bug-Caddy zone and into conventional, but in general he seemed to have created buildings based on extrapolations of the look-and-feel of a certain era instead of specific prototypes. Ok, I admit the kits he used were modelling those eras, and he lets the era pop out in his creations instead of hiding them.
Look there's this other factor I have to take into account, Mr. Curren published for the mainstream model railroad magazines of his time, so he was possibly limited in what he could write about. The other side of kitbashing for magazines is that it helps push the sales of kits, and promotes vendors and advertisers. The post suggested an alternative question that asked what would Mr. Curren build with the vast numbers of plastic kits available today, but I should have went further and also asked, what would he build if he didn't have to publish an associated how-to article for a mainstream magazine? Or publish anything period. In his own time, did he build anything that he loved, but was unpublishable? E. L. Moore had a number of projects that were deemed unpublishable - which speak to the ongoing development of his interests - so I wouldn't be surprised if Art Curren did too.
And there's this other thing. Mr. Curren preferred to call what he did kitmingling instead of kitbashing. Kitbashing does seem to have this sound about it that it's something that's done with hammers and anvils and forges, where it fact it's something far more cerebral because you have to assimilate a lot of shapes, and figure out how to cut and slice and blend and assemble them to end up with the thing you're looking for. His preferred term, kitmingling, seems better for describing what's going on. When I look at Mr Adam's work, some is clearly kitmingling, and other stuff, like the Bruegel-Bosch-Bus, seems like anvil-pounding kitbashing. Maybe we should be a little more discerning in our use of terms: kitbashing for the wilder stuff, and kitmingling for the more cerebral end. 
The only reason I drone on about definitions, tests, and such is that I think the exploratory aspect of kitbashing-kitmingling sometimes gets glossed over, and maybe we'd see a little more speculative stuff if we took a little deeper look at what can be meant by bashing and mingling. I'm hoping to try a little more out there stuff myself this year - maybe the 350 Boss Birney will finally see the light of day :-) Hopefully a late New Year's resolution has a little more chance of being accomplished :-)

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Hartley Tower drawing

Chicago isn't Toronto and Toronto isn't Chicago, but in my mind I wouldn't be surprised to get on the subway somewhere in Toronto and get off at 430 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, which is where Bob Hartley had his office on The Bob Newhart Show. 

In the '70s The Bob Newhart Show was my favourite comedy. Still is. So, any layout of mine that includes '60s and '70s office towers must include Bob's. I figured if I was drawing up office towers, I might as well work on Bob's since I was in the groove.

Ok, the drawing isn't an exact replica, just something that captures the facade's main features seen on the show and adheres to the layout's selective compression guidelines. You can see the super-tall ground level needs detailing (and maybe some re-sizing and re-proportioning), so I may freelance something if I can't find more information.

Ideally I'd like this model to include one floor that has Bob and Jerry's reception area, and Bob's office complete with couch (couches seem to be a thing on the show). I'm not sure how all that will be viewable, but figuring it out is part of the fun :-)

That's Bob and Jerry's reception area as it appeared in the January 26, 1974 episode, Clink Shink.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

AHM's Signal Tower and the Charlotte connection

Kit box image sourced from ebay - Drawing snipped from MR Apr '66
Yesterday's conversation about E. L. Moore's AHM kits also unearthed pictures of AHM's Signal Tower, kit #5821. It's also got a reference to Model Railroader in a little red box: 

Produced from plans and with authorization by MODEL RAILROADER Magazine.

Searching MR's archive suggests that the source was a set of drawings by Bill Stokes called Classic signal tower on the Central of Georgia in the April 1966 issue of MR.

Digging a little further, the Feb '59 issue mentions that Bill Stokes - who looks like he published a few rather decent articles in MR in the early '60s - worked at WSOC-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ok, you can see the gears turning in my head: did Mr. Stokes know that other famous model railroader who lived in Charlotte at that time? That's another question we're probably not going to resolve.

AHM's Water Tower

Kit box image sourced from ebay and right image sourced from MR Oct '65
Vince and I - well, mainly Vince :-) - have been scouring the internet trying to figure out all the box variants of AHM's initial release of their E. L. Moore kits. Along the way he came across AHM's classic Water Tower kit, whose little label on the box top says,

Reproduced by permission from plans as shown in Model Railroader Magazine.

I wondered which plans, and who drew them. After scanning the MR archive I'm thinking the kit is based on James E. Findley's Branchline Water Tank article that appeared in MR's October 1965 issue. Mr. Findley's model looks tantalizingly close to the kit. That picture on the right is snipped from the article's lead image, and you can see it looks like AHM's artist used it to create the box art painting. Actually, if you take a look at the article you'll see that the complete lead image looks like it was used as the basis of the painting, water tower, locomotive, track and all. I suspect the Findley / AHM Water Tower connection has been known for awhile, but it came as news to me.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Highrise test article

I spent some time making a little test article to try out some possible construction methods for the high rises. To get started I tried making the main pieces of the Thomson building's facade as it was the simplest of the bunch.

The verticals are cut from mat board with my Logan mat cutter, and the horizontals are sliced from acid-free black construction paper with a ruler and knife. They're all stuck down with transfer tape on a scrap of clear acrylic sheet. 

Later the verticals were lightly painted with some aged concrete colour, but on the model they'll need to be painted before being put in place. Also, I think I'll need to use a black or smoked acrylic base instead of clear to get the right window colour.  

Speaking of clear, one thing that's crystal clear is that I need to be extra careful when using a scriber to mark the acrylic sheet as it was easy to slip and scratch the windows.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Sam the Record Man's Weather Beacon

I was digging through the family history archives today and found this 45 wrapper from Sam the Record Man. I recall when you bought a 45 there, they heat sealed it in one of these plastic sleeves to indicate that you've paid for it, and to prevent you from slipping another unpaid record inside on your way out.

What got my attention though is the picture of the old Sam's facade on the Yonge St flagship store in the wrapper's bottom right - this sign predates his famous spinning record facade. The caption below it states:

Watch Sam's Weather Beacon for latest forecasts. Green - clear; Red - cloudy; Flashing Red - rain; Flashing White - snow; Running up - warm; Running down - cooler ; Steady - no change. 

That would make for one interesting model sign. I need to find some more information.

Don't fear the S word

Streetcar that is :-)

I was born and raised in Toronto and remember that at the time it had just two types of electric rail transit* for getting around: streetcars and the subway. The streetcars weren't called trams, trollies, or traction. My parents and neighbours called them streetcars, and sometimes just cars when giving directions: "... then take the insert-street-name-here car to ....". I don't recall streetcars being referred to as trams or trollies. And certainly not as traction.

I only came across traction as a descriptor in the model railroad magazines, and thought it was weird. Still do. I realize it refers to the type of electric motor that's used, and makes perfect technical sense. But, my teenage self kept thinking, any vehicle that runs around on wheels has to have traction or it wouldn't go anywhere. It's basically a self-propelled passenger car that snakes through the streets, hence streetcar. I was thinking along the lines of describing what I saw instead of what was under-the-hood. Loosely speaking, streetcar might not exclude anything not electrically powered, but traction doesn't seem to describe how people use the vehicle. I guess one just uses the term one thinks best. For me, that's streetcar. 

Traction not spoken here :-)
*Ok, ok, there were trolley buses too, but they didn't ride on rails, and the trolley in trolley bus wrecks my rant :-) I didn't ride or like them that much, so obviously I'm biased.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Cleaning 101

Above the OTrain LRTs at Tunney's Pasture prior to the inaugural ride
On New Year's eve 2 OTrains lost electrical power and stopped dead. Subsequent investigation found the problem was due to a build up of dirt on the pantograph - which the CBC report refers to as the accordion-like apparatus - that makes contact with the overhead wire. Clearly, there seems to be a lack of model railroaders on staff at the city because they'd be well aware that dirt is the bane of all electrically powered rail vehicles no matter how big or small :-)
Roof top view of a TTC Flexity Outlook streetcar - I was surprised by how much equipment is exposed

Office buildings

Lines are a bit hard to see - try looking at the large view
There are a few '70s-style office buildings in Toronto that I'm rather partial to looking at, and I'm having a go at drawing up compressed variations of them for the OPL. I started with the Thomson Building on Queen W and the Canadian Press building on King. It's the strong geometrical patterns on their facades that gets my attention - I have no idea if they're any good to work in.

It may seem rather easy to draw up the facades, just get the dimensions and some photos and there you go. The problem is that even in HO scale these would each be a few feet tall and overwhelm the layout. 

After some thought I realized I need to establish some sort of vertical scale for the layout which boils down to:

1. The size relationships between the models reflects that of the prototypes even though the models themselves are much smaller than their real life counterparts. This means: the TD Centre , the tallest building on the layout, will be much taller than the Thomson Building, which is much taller than the Canadian Press building, which is taller than A&A, which is on the order of the Imperial Six, which are both in that middling height range that is currently the layout's norm.

2. The proportions of the buildings need to remain close to that of the prototypes even though this may result in fewer floors and narrower frontage than the prototype.

3. My TD Centre mockup is too short at 2' tall, and needs to be taller. It seems ok in N, but not HO. A true-to-scale TD Centre would be around 8' tall in HO, which is about the length of the entire layout! A model in the 3' to 4' range is laughable on its own, but in the context of the other compressed buildings - compressed in accordance with rule 1 - it'll look quite tall while still being short.

As I work on drawings of these buildings I'm struck by the idea that while buildings and street lengths have to be compressed, the streetcars and people are to-scale reproductions. Also, I find that roads and sidewalk widths, as well as building spacing, can't be overly compressed or things start to look too train-set like - over-compression of these negative spaces is always a scene-killer to me. That needs to be its own post: how the size, shape, and use of negative space is one of the most neglected aspects of layout design.