Saturday, February 29, 2020

Loop Day

Today was the first big test of the entire length of the Ocean Park Loop. I hadn't run any streetcars in quite a long time so my test PCC needed some cleaning and lubrication, not to mention that the older sections of track also needed cleaning. But, after a few jerky runs and a little further cleaning, the PCC ran smoothly. On the horizon are test runs with all the other streetcars in the fleet, as well as some multiple car trials.

Endless problems with the Confederation Line

Left, John Manconi, head of OCTranspo; right, Jim Watson, Ottawa's Mayor
I haven't written about Ottawa's new light rail system in quite a long time. Not that there hasn't been anything to write about; on the contrary, there's been an unending flow of incidents with day-to-day operations that likely make the Confederation Line one of the worst LRT systems currently in operation. The local news outlets have been doing a good job of reporting on all the problems, so I didn't have anything to add other than sympathy for all the riders who are bearing the brunt of this bad system, and the citizens who've paid for it. If you're interested, here's a summary of some of the problems posted today at the CBC: Notes from the underground: lessons from Ottawa's LRT flop. Taken as a whole, the system seems like one where cheapness and expediency ruled, and properly satisfying requirements and testing took a backseat. I hope things can be righted, but I'm not confident.

Maybe it's International Space Station Alpha from 1995?

A few weeks ago I bought a copy of Airfix Model World's special issue Scale Modelling Real Space, and Vince was telling me he picked one up yesterday. It's an excellent bookazine, and I especially enjoyed the lead article on building Revell's 1/144 scale International Space Station. It' a real eye-opener to me about what's involved in building a more-or-less accurate version of ISS. There're lots of after market components, and it seems like every piece of the kit had to have some special work done.

After all that work, the resulting model is quite fine. I only had one minor quibble, the robotic manipulator on the model's Japanese module shouldn't have a Canada logo on it as it isn't a Canadian product.

The author mentions that so much custom work had to be done because the kit wasn't that accurate in comparison to the space station. I took a look my kit, which I think I bought around 2005, maybe a year or so after I had returned to model making, to see what could be learned regarding sources. Not much it turns out. The instructions have a 2000 copyright, and given that date, I think the kit might be more reflective of a mid-90's International Space Station Alpha version of ISS. That stapled reference guide up in the photo's lower right corner is a summary of the ISS as it was envisioned by the time of NASA's 19 March 1995 Incremental Design Review. So it could be that the kit is actually a better representation of an earlier stage in ISS's development than how it exists today. I haven't made a 1-to-1 comparison of the kit's parts against the review document, but the box top and cover image on the design review package are tantalizingly close.

Grumping aside, the ISS article, and the bookazine overall, are excellent and well worth a look.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

A beautiful day for test fitting track

This was the scene outside today. Prediction: 20 to 40 cm of snow by the time it's all done, which should be later this evening.

Other than snow removal, test fitting track on the ocean loop module seemed like a good task to take on.

The track is all Atlas code 100 snap track. The loop has a 15" radius. Too tight for a typical locomotive, but plenty spacious for a typical streetcar, especially when you consider the Mortimer loop in the city has a 7" radius. The spur is a beach-side passenger drop.

The only somewhat tricky part was building this double crossing made out of 2 Atlas 90 degree crossings. There's going to be a road that separates the beach from the city, and down the centre will be a dedicated light rail track. Right now it'll be just for show to hint that there's interurban track in this world. 

And a couple of supports were glued to the foam to allow the module to rest firmly on the layout frame. They were cut from some old paint stir sticks.

Once I've stared at this set up for awhile and feel comfortable with it I'll add power leads and glue it down. It should then be ready for a test run!

That's not the knife. This is the knife.

Vince mentioned to me that using a utility knife to score an acrylic sheet wasn't the best choice. That nasty thing up there is the one I actually used. I bought it years ago, and am not sure what it's called, but it does a good job of scoring.

[29 Feb update: Vince tells me this thing is called a scrawker.]

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Developing patience

Mr. Nordner's statement about patience struck a chord with me. As a kid it seemed like just about every adult I knew told me I had no patience. Looking back, well, it was true, but it did irritate me no end at the time. Especially since it's one thing to tell someone they have no patience, and another to suggest practical steps to developing it.

I'm reading Helen Dewitt's The Last Samurai, and in it there's a passage where the narrator notes that Yo-Yo Ma's father helped speed his son's development as a cellist by having him master one small thing a day, day after day. And I think it was also noted that this regime was imposed on the junior Ma when he was a toddler. I don't know if this is suitable for such a young child, or if this is all fiction, but the idea of continually mastering one small thing after another as a means of building up skills has merit. Maybe developing skills in this way is a way to develop patience in that having patience for a task has a component that is related to knowing the steps required to complete the task, and knowing that one has the skills to accomplish each step. Maybe.

I need to look into ways to develop model making patience. I still have problems with it, and putting up a sign near my work table that yells PATIENCE isn't going to do it :-)

PATIENCE is the Secret Formula

Opening image from Chapter 4: Select Your Tools and Materials
When I read old books like How to Build Model Ships, it's more from the viewpoint of looking at an artifact from a previous age than one of looking for model building tips and techniques. Introductions are of special interest as they often give direct insight into the author's concerns. I thought this paragraph from Mr. Nordner's introduction is still especially relevant (italics and capitalization are his),

PATIENCE is the Secret Formula

The first thing every new model builder should do is hang a large sign near his work area that reads PATIENCE. Without this, you are doomed to frustration and many failures. Often, what seems to us incredible skill is nothing more than the result of indestructible patience. In this day of automation, shrinking time and distance, young people never really have a chance to develop this trait. Take my advice - craftsmanship can be developed only through patient application. This skill requires trial and error, time and refection. With patience and determination, anyone can develop the skill needed for successful model building.

Still useful words from half-a-century ago.

How to Build Model Ships

Got 'em
Awhile back Vince was testing my knowledge of slot car books published in the '60s and '70s. He mentioned How to Build Model Cars by William Nordner and sent along a photo.

The title didn't ring any bells, but as soon as I saw the photo I instantly remembered taking it out many, many times from the local public library when I was a kid. I even remembered exactly where it was shelved. Actually, the layout of the entire library and its contents flooded back in photorealistic detail. It was a strange experience. 

I immediately went online to see if I could find a copy. No dice, but I did find a copy of Nordner's How to Build Model Ships for a couple of bucks and bought it. I don't remember seeing this at the library, but it's never too late to experience what I might have overlooked :-)

Need 'em
And, strangely enough, I wondered if there was an E. L. Moore connection - being I'm a man with a hammer and all that. Mr. Moore wrote 2 articles, one published and one not, about projects where boat models were prominent. The unpublished one, submitted to MR in March '69, was called A Pair of Canal Boats, and the published one, add a Harbor to your Pike, was published in January and February '68 in RMC. In the introduction to the RMC article he mentions that a chance buy of a marked down copy of a book on ship models was partial inspiration to get going on the project. Was Nordner's the book? No, it was published in 1969. Maybe Mr. Moore eventually saw it at his local library, but we'll likely never know. The search continues for that inspirational marked down book.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020


Although I thought I'd defer any detailing of individual floors until I got to that stage with the Hartley Tower, I didn't think I could avoid adding the lobby. At the very least, the lobby floor would help add strength to the structure as did the roof and the upper floors, and help remove a little wall flaring at the base.

The lobby is rudimentary. It's just a floor, elevator block, ceiling, and some lights.

The panels are cut from 0.040" styrene. I looked up some marble and elevator door images on the internet, printed them on paper, and then glued the pieces to the styrene panels. I should have added things like elevator controls, floor numbers, and a directory, but I felt rushed and decided to delve into those details when I build the Hartley tower.

My lobby doesn't model what's in the prototype. It's just a mockup of my impression of the ones found in modern highrises: ones that use various types of marble and stainless steel. 

While I was building mine I watched the movie Towering Inferno - an Irwin Allen disaster classic from 1974. Early in the movie we see Roberts, the building's architect played by Paul Newman, elevatoring down from the helipad along with the building's developer, played by Willam Holden, and then entering what appears to be the lobby of developer's company offices. Wow! It's a symphony of burnt orange and earth tones, a far cry from the mausoleum aesthetic of my lobby. I'm keeping all that funky '70s style in the back of my mind when it comes time to detail the Hartley Tower.

Lighting is via a strip of LEDs housed in an overhead light box. There are some holes punched in the floor of the elevator box so the wires can leave the building. And a row of holes were punched into the ceiling below the light box to try to give uniform lighting across the marble expanse. 

It took a bit of fiddling to get the lobby inside, but in the end it fit snuggly. Some MEK-based solvent was used to bond the lobby to the structure.

The aluminum bar with the holes is a bar clamp I used to keep things stable and aligned as I glued everything in place.

And that's that for the lobby.

Next up, detailing the front and rear walls.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Don't try this at home

I'm not kidding, this is not the right way to build a modular extension for the ocean end of the Ocean Park Loop - or for any modular layout come to think of it ;-)

I'm deliberately taking a risk to see what's the lightest construction I can get away with for this module. This thing isn't going to see regular use, and will be stowed away most of the time, so I thought I'd play around with scrap materials I have and try to build something very light. As light as I can.

I had some leftover white styrofoam pieces from an insulation project and glued them to a 2'x3' poplar panel I had bought several months ago. I bought some 0.25" x 1.5" x 3' poplar strips to act as stiffeners for the foam cantilever. The strips were glued and screwed to the wood panel with metal angles.

I glued up everything on the basement floor and used bar clamps and whatever heavy things I could find to hold the components in place while the glue dried.

Here it is after all the foam pieces had been glued in place and had a chance to dry. The template is stuck to the foam with glue drips. I outlined it on the foam with a black sharpie before removing.

Here it is all ready for cutting. Before doing so I bolted the wood panel end to the layout to keep the module in place before cutting the final profile with a small toolbox saw.

I checked the level. Not perfect, but not too bad considering the rather crude conditions and building process.

A rasp was used to smooth the edges and surface. 

Then there was a very, very long session with the ShopVac to clean up all the styrofoam beads :-) I think I still have some in my hair.

Acrylic raw sienna was used to paint the foam to kill the weird white colour.

So, this thing isn't rugged enough to stand up to shows, children, leaners, louts, or those seeking a coffee table. The cantilever definitely has some flex to it, and it might require an additional support, but I'm going to hold off on that for awhile. I want to push this thing and see what it can take. I hope my resolve will hold :-) Although, I am going to add a piece of plastic trim to finish the outer edge to help prevent edge erosion on the foam panels, and make it look a little more finished. 

Nothing heavy is going to be placed on this end; no buildings; no trains; just a streetcar or two and some flat beach scenery with an open field and a few trees around the track loop. 

And speaking of track, that's next. 

Ain't no mountain Lowe enough

When we were in Los Angeles last month, we made a special side-trip up the Angeles Crest Highway to hike on Mt. Lowe. Long story short, unlike last time, I hiked it, but afterwards regretted it.

Although it was sunny in the mountains, with temperatures in the mid to high 50s, parts of the trail that were in shadow were covered in rotten snow. Also, many trail sections had loose debris from slides. Often the trail was no more than around 12" wide with quite a drop on one side. 

When I was finished and back on the main trail I had an overwhelming feeling that I'd done a stupid thing, and was lucky to be back without incident. That night and the next I had nightmares about slipping off the trail and into the canyon. My mountain days are over. I'm sticking with the beach :-)

Friday, February 21, 2020

Sliding back wall

I built-up a sliding back wall for the highrise.

It's fairly easy to make. There're 3 layers: there's an inner piece of black mat board, a middle layer of 0.100" styrene strips to act as a spacer layer, and an outer layer of black foam board. There's a track on the back ends of the side walls - it's those white strips in the photo - made from 0.080" square styrene that the back wall slides into. In the photo the wall is partially slid up to reveal the lobby and lower floors, but the entire wall can be slid out to expose all the floors.

After pondering things a bit, I need to build up the lobby next so I can get the bottom of the building firmed up and detailed. 

The back wall isn't going to be left as raw foam board, but will be finished simply with styrene brick sheets and a few detail items. The details won't be prototypically accurate, just suggestive so that a casual glance isn't too jarring. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Highrise structure cleanup

After staring at the model for awhile, I figured it needed a bit of strengthening here-and-there, and a little touch-up before moving on with new tasks.

A number of the glued joints were reinforced. A ceiling for the top floor was added as well as a roof cut from 0.100" styrene. I thought that floor didn't need a ceiling, and a roof was all that was required, but after viewing the top floor from a few angles it was clear that it would look unfinished without its own ceiling.

Also, the outside corner verticals were added since the wall joints looked and felt ok. While I was at it, I touched up some paint on a few other verticals that had gotten abraded.

Work on the back wall and exterior detailing are next. The model is standing on the corner of my desk with the open side toward me. I'm hoping that by looking around inside long enough I'll develop some ideas about interior detailing.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

More Walthers E. L. Moore kits

Discovery continues. It looks like Walthers also markets the Machine Shop (931-916) and a version of W. E. Snatchem called Two-Story House (931-901) in their series of Trainline kits. 

I also see a Walthers kit called Hardware Store (931-915), which looks like a repackaging of AHM kit 5883, F. C. Rode Hardware Store, which in turn is also a variation on W. E. Snatchem. The Walthers site states the Hardware Store is in-stock, but will be discontinued when sold out - an ominous sign for the E. L. Moore aficionado. 

There might be more kits of E. L. Moore origin out there - I need to find my hiking boots :-)

Walthers version of E. L. Moore's Village Blacksmith

This is another stumble-upon that I found while looking for Walthers Car Shop kit. That Walthers Old Country Barn kit (#931-902) looks identical to AHM 5872, Village Blacksmith, that was based on an E. L. Moore project. If I'd known about the Walthers version back in November when I was at the Syracuse show, I wouldn't have worried about finding an AHM kit to repair my old model. Live and learn.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Walthers versions of Rob Corriston's Freight Warehouse

Iron Ridge Freight Station | Brick Freight House
I was searching for Walthers Car Shop kit and stumbled across Walthers Iron Ridge Freight Station kit (WTL 905), and their Brick Freight House kit (#931-918). These look identical to AHM 5831, Freight Station, which was based on a project designed by Rob Corriston. I was surprised to see that the kit survives into our era.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The tower stands!

I put the pedal-to-the-metal and got the sides panelled with horizontal and vertical elements using the same techniques used on the facade. Once done, I was quite anxious to get the 3 walls glued up and see this thing standing.

Gluing the walls together was a bit tricky. For the next highrises I'm going to need to build a jig to hold the walls in place as they're glued. This one was a bit of a juggling act, but things worked out ok.

The sides were glued to the facade - which is an acrylic to acrylic joint - with a thick superglue. Some kicker was carefully sprayed on the glue seam to speed bonding.

I decided to add interior floors to give extra strength to the structure, and to allow for some interior detail and lighting.

The floors are rectangles of black, 3/16" foam board, glued in place with Roket Card Glue by Deluxe Materials

The back wall is going to be able to slide out to allow for interior detailing, and for taking pictures of layout scenes. That wall will simply be a piece of foam board with some plastic brick sheets glued on. 

The real thing was finished construction in 1972, and when this little version stood up, and I had a good look, it was definitely reminding me of highrises from that era. So far, so good.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Gil Mellé, Creative Crafts Cartoonist

MetaFitler recently ran a post about Leigh Martin's craft magazine index, and it reminded me that I had contacted her a long time ago with a question about whether E. L. Moore had any articles in Creative Crafts. In '67 Hal Carstens tried to cajole E. L. Moore into writing an article about wood-burning for the new magazine, but I couldn't find any manuscripts that indicated Mr. Moore submitted anything. Leigh graciously took the time to look through her collection and confirmed there didn't appear to be anything. 

After the MetaFilter prodding, I went back and looked through the updated Creative Crafts index, but still didn't find anything by E. L. Moore. Although, out of the corner of my eye, I did see two Gil Mellé entries! Apparently he had two cartoons published: one in the inaugural Fall 1967 issue, and another in Winter 1967. So, they're something to add to the Gil Mellé publication index

Leigh's doing a great job compiling those incredibly valuable indexes, and I wish her much success with the project.

Verticals & horizontals installed

I finished gluing the remaining verticals and horizontal pieces to the Thomson facade. 

In the process I accidentally cut a column of horizontals too wide, and it left a glaring open gap. I had to replace an entire column of little black pieces, so I learned what it would take to individually install all those little black squares. 

But, once that repair was made, I could step back and see that the facade was shaping up ok. It was starting remind me of the real thing, which is the point of this.

I should note that unlike the horizontals and verticals on the test piece, after a few days a couple of vertical ends came unglued. However, over on the test piece, everything is still stuck on just fine. I carefully applied some thick super-glue under each loose end and then clamped the vertical to the blank. So far the offending verticals remain stuck down.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Ocean Blvd gets some new track

The layout has a 2'x4' panel and a new 2'x3' panel that make up the downtown area. You can see that on the 2'x3' panel there's an outline of a sort of square loop that on the Alta Vista TC was the residential area. I wasn't happy with that idea for a module. I wanted a longer straight section, so the loop was removed and the panel repurposed. 

The track is Atlas code 100 flex, and it's held in place with strips of wide 3M transfer tape. Some plastic shims were cut and installed on the right end to make sure the rails joined up level with the other straight track module.

Plates removed

Maybe this is too detailed to discuss here, but here goes: Way-back-when I installed these metal plates between the panels. I thought they added extra stiffness and a 'mechanical' look to the layout. Ultimately, I figured all they added was frustration. One objective of the panel approach was to allow individual panels to be freed so they could be taken outside to the backyard for photos in natural sunlight. With these plates I'd have to remove between 7 and 14 bolts - depending on a panel's location - to free a panel: some from each plate, and 3 from each inter-panel edge connection. I got rid of the plates and reduced the inter-panel connections from 3 to 2 bolts. Wiring is connected with plugs, so no problem in that area. Again, like the ocean module extension, minimalism is the goal. I don't seem to have adversely impacted the layout, although without all the redundant bolts I'll need to be a little more careful when moving around bolted panels.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Ocean loop structural extension

The layout frame needed extending to accommodate the ocean module. What I added is a bit on the Rube Goldberg side, but all I wanted to do was satisfy my requirements in the most minimal way I could get away with.

When the layout isn't being used to test streetcars, or being shown off, this module support will be hanging on the wall. It's only bolted to the main frame so it's easy to detach.

There is a little science to its design. At first I thought I'd just add a leg to support the extension, but that would have prevented me from being able to roll the layout around at will as I work on it.

Also, the diagonal brace had to be wood - I used a piece of 1"x3" pine* - because it's in compression. When assembled, the rectangular module base - made from 1"x4" pine* - and the brace form a fairly rigid triangle. Although the base resists axial twisting fairly well, this isn't something that could handle hard use that might be encountered at a show, or with rambunctious children. I'm going to stick with this minimal frame and only add extra supports if necessary - fingers crossed that I don't find out I need extra supports by having the frame break-off :-)

*When I was shopping for pine at the local big box home improvement store my shopping technique got lots of stares. I select a piece of pine by sighting down its length and rotating it through all views to make sure the it's straight. Of course, I also try to make sure the piece is clear of knots. If a piece is warped, I set it to one side, and inspect another one. Once I found the pieces I needed, I put the rejects back. After I was done selecting pieces for this little project I noticed a few people staring like they've never seen anyone select wood before. Maybe they haven't.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Planning the Ocean loop

For a long time I've been thinking about what the module on the ocean end of the layout should look like. I've toyed with various designs, but in the end I think a big loop to contrast with the Mortimer Park loop, and to allow continuous running*, is what I need.

There'll be some beach and ocean near that spur, and open land in the loop. I want this end to have an open feeling to contrast the dense, urban area you'd travel through to get here.

It's all sectional track taken from my spares box of decades of leftovers. The loop is a 15" radius thing. That's way too tight for diesels, but quite roomy for streetcars. At the other end of the layout the Mortimer Park loop has a 7" radius, so there's quite a contrast.

The details of the scenery may change as I build this thing, but the overall idea is that this end is going to curvy, free form, and open to maximize the contrast with downtown. 

Everything was traced out on a big sheet of paper, some dimensions were noted, and now it's ready for module building.

*Normally I don't care for running trains. I'm a model maker and like to take photos. But, when it comes to showing this to people there's an expectation that trains will run. And run in a loop**. Given that the thing is DCC, some simple multi-streetcar operations can be run if someone wants to play the transit game. I think a layout without a loop is somewhat disappointing to viewers. Luckily with streetcars, running in tight loops is not too far from the prototypical truth.

**I think of this kind of track plan as The Primal Loop, because the simple circle of track dates from the earliest beginnings of the hobby and is deeply lodged in its DNA. 

Monday, February 3, 2020

Of steel bars and highrises

The facade's base is a piece of 1/8" acrylic sheet. I've always used the score-and-snap technique to 'cut' this stuff, but have had problems with it where many times I'd accidentally break the piece, or wind up with a ragged edge. 

After a little internet searching I learned that I needed to use a substantial steel angle to snap the scored sheet against. I found a 4' steel angle at Princess Auto that did the trick. Basically, after laying out the facade on the sheet, I clamped the steel bar down on the line I wanted to score and snap, with the piece that would eventually be the model on the bench, and the scrap piece on the free end. I scored along the bar 4 or 5 times with a sharp utility knife, not with the puny x-acto shown in the photo. And, most importantly, I wore heavy work gloves and eye protection while snapping.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Highrise start

I've been doing some work here-and-there on building highrise facades. Although I've cut out the acrylic blanks for a few buildings, I decided to start building out the facade on the one that's based on the Thomson Building as it seems iconically '70s, and is relatively simple enough to allow me to try various techniques without too much heartburn.

The blank is cut from 1/8" lightly smoked acrylic sheet. The verticals are 5' wide pieces cut from mat board, and the horizontals, which are also 5' wide, are pieces of flat black construction paper. The verticals were painted with an aged concrete colour before installing.

The horizontals and verticals are held in place with transfer tape.

As you can see, before installing a vertical, a column of horizontal pieces have to be sliced away so the vertical can be bonded directly to the acrylic blank. This is a pain, but I thought I'd get a straighter horizontal this way. I think when I build up the sides, I'll install the verticals first, then the smaller horizontals on a piece-by-piece basis.