Sunday, December 16, 2018

New Job, New Camera, New (Casual) Railfanning

This speeding Long Island Rail Road DE30AC at Carle Place, New York, was the first railfanning occasion for my new Sony RX100M6 camera. I bought the camera to celebrate my new job, so it was fitting that traveling home from my first week in the field with clients presented this opportunity to break out the new camera. The end-of-day winter twilight did not help but this brave little superpowered point-and-shoot acquitted itself well in these challenging shooting conditions--it was dark, wet, and that outbound LIRR train was doing at least 60 mph.
A scant five minutes later this string of MUs blasted through. Trains magazine has tagged at least one major LIRR junction, closer into New York City as I recall, as a hot spot. The LIRR is very busy, and even though I was on an 'off-peak' train, I didn't wait and it was quite full. I will be on this client engagement, which also affords me an Amtrak ride from Washington to NYC, for another month or so--more photos likely.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Stuff I’ve Been Reading: Foreign Model Rail Mags

I’ve made a point of late of being a more social model railroader, which has led—weirdly—to a dramatic increase in my consumption of foreign model railroad magazines.
I resumed reading a German-language model railroad magazine, MIBA (MIniatur BAhnen, or Miniature Railroads), as a direct result of all the model railroaders I have met in the past few months who ask me why there isn’t wire between the fancy Pennsy poles on my N scale Old Line Corridor layout.
“Aren’t you going to put up catenary wire? Europeans do it all the time in N scale.”
I have tried—in vain—to explain that the Old Line Corridor is a kind of extended experiment, and that I had already doubled down on impressionistic modeling of the tower and right-of-way elements of Pennsy/NEC catenary, but would not be modeling the wire.“You ought to think about wire. You’ve done it in HO, so you should be able to do it in N.”
Those suggestions, and the allusions to European modelers who are undaunted by N or even Z scale catenary, led me to revisit my Sommerfeldt and Viessman catalogs and guidebooks--which do make N scale catenary seem attainable.
I needed to read more on this topic, which is when I discovered a special edition of MIBA titled "Fahrleitungen im Modell" ("Modeling Overhead"). It helps here that my German is serviceable--I did live there for a time in the 80s as a soldier and even took a minor in German for my bachelors degree back in the day.
I downloaded the MIBA special edition and then went back for more--VGB, MIBA's publisher, helpfully offers its many railroad books and magazines in digital editions, via secure online transaction.
MIBA was already familiar to me--I bought a copy a day or two after arriving in Germany with the U.S. Army in 1986. MIBA opened a door into German culture for me. When the teacher of my Army-mandated German culture orientation class saw me reading MIBA during a class break, he revealed himself to be a model railroader! This experience repeated itself numerous times during my time in Germany, where model railroading is much more popular and much more mainstream than here in North America. For crying out loud, the Germany section of Disney's EPCOT Center, sponsored by the German government's cultural outreach arm, prominently features an outdoor model railroad. Germany even has a national model railroad day (December 2, FYI).
The magazine was available on practically every newsstand in Germany, and not only did I learn more German language from it, it provided me an entree into German life.
After buying a half-dozen or so of MIBA and other VGB digital editions, I took the plunge and became a MIBA subscriber. A print subscription here in the US probably would have cost somewhere north of $100 annually, but the digital subscription was very reasonably priced, no more than my digital subscriptions to Model Railroader or Railroad Model Craftsman. The how-to articles and layout stories are well done, the reviews thorough, and all are supported by excellent photography. Cutting and pasting text into Google translate provides an expeditious way to digest MIBA for readers who don't read German.
For its part, the "Fahrleitungen im Modell" edition is both a comparative product review of European model railroading's catenary products and a how-to on model catenary. The production quality is equal to or better than Kalmbach or White River's offerings. It will guide me through my upcoming experiment in actual N scale catenary construction on a European-prototype T-Trak module (watch this space).
*  *  *
With all this thinkin' about European trains, a stack of Continental Modeller magazines caught my eye a month or so ago at Rockville Model Railroad Club's table at the Train Show in Timonium. A cover story on an Austrian prototype HOn30 'heavy' electric layout particularly intrigued, but there were other interesting stories scattered throughout the magazines. Glen from the Rockville Club wanted $2 each, and it was late in the show, so he offered me the whole stack of a dozen magazines for $5. I took them all.
Continental Modeller is a British model railroad magazine focused on non-British modeling subjects--mostly 'continental' European subjects, with occasional forays into North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and even South America. CM leans heavily into layout stories, and has a smattering of how-to, technique, and product review content.
Like MIBA, CM is available digitally. Unlike MIBA, CM has its own app that also affords access to CM back issues.
Continental Modeller's layout stories seem more 'human' than the typical MR or RMC fare, spinning yarns of layouts acquired second-hand, or renovated after years of dormancy. There are also a wider variety of approaches to model railroading in evidence--very small layouts, for example, and layouts built specifically for display at exhibitions, not just the operations-oriented basement empires or 'lifetime layouts' that are the staple of North American model railroad magazines.
Speaking of model railroading cliches, Continental Modeller does seem to rely on a few. Just as Model Railroader falls back on Appalachian coal haulers and Colorado narrow gauge, Continental Modeller has what seems to be an endless parade of Alpine narrow gauge layouts, and lots of German engine terminals.
But I'll keep readin' 'em all anyways--cliches or no, I thoroughly enjoy seeing model railroading from all over the world, done as many different ways as possible.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Just Because

Rode this in Canada when I was 10 or 11, and Rapido did it right in N scale. Thanks Jason Shron, and company, this one hits the spot.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Ahh, the Utah Belt

Eric Brooman's Utah Belt is featured--again, after a sufficiently healthy interval--in the December 2018 Model Railroader. Even though I'm not particularly interested in modeling a southwestern US class 1 railroad, I have always enjoyed seeing the UB. I enjoy the artistry--Eric is an art teacher, after all. The vistas are unmistakably the great southwest, and Eric has nailed the colors, textures, and composition.

I also admire the depth and maturity of the overall concept. The UB *looks* right, like it belongs in the panoply of big American railroads. The paint scheme, in particular, is conservative, and UB's rolling stock conforms to consistent themes.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Retrofitting New Benchwork Under the Old Line Corridor

The Old Line corridor on its new rolling, rigid  benchwork. Note the galvanized Simpson Strong Tie fittings on the corners, which significantly simplified and sped up construction of the new benchwork. 
The Old Line Corridor was in need of a new benchwork foundation. The folding table legs, extended with 1" conduit tubing, which had served as the support for the layout, were becoming worryingly wobbly over time. The wobbliness became very apparent to me during recent visits to other layouts. I noticed particularly that most other layouts--even modular examples--were sturdy or even immovably stable in contrast to my OLC.

Also, the folding metal legs' springiness and tiny feet made it difficult to move the layout--moving the layout or even adjusting its position required two strong adults to lift the layout straight up.

I cribbed the idea for the folding metal legs from several different Model Railroader magazine project layouts. In particular, the Carolina Central layout from the mid 90s demonstrated the exact approach I used on the OLC. The Carolina Central had used a narrower 30" door and significantly less foam insulation than the OLC. As a result, I suspect the OLC's larger 36"-wide foot print and 3-plus inches of foam might have been pushing the limit of the extended folding legs' capacity. 

I considered a variety of options for replacing the folding legs. One approach would have borrowed another Model Railroader idea, that which was used under Red Oak N scale project layout: a heavy wheeled cart constructed from 1x4s and L-girders. Another would have been to use Ikea Ivar shelf components, as has has been done by Marty McGuirk and Bernie Kempinski on their layouts.

I homed in on a 2x2-based approach using Simpson Strong Tie shelving hardware. A Simpson Strong Tie DIY Shelving kit provided the eight required fittings and an ample supply of screws to attach the fittings to 2x2s. The fittings were attached at the top and bottom of the 48" 2x2 uprights. A 36" x 80" panel of 1/2" plywood, with 1 1/2" notches cut into the corners, formed a shelf for the bottome of the new frame. Once the fittings and plywood shelf were completely screwed in, the new frame was very rigid and strong. Casters with 3/8" stems were then fitted to the legs. The resulting benchwork is appropriately lightweight, yet rigid. The casters allow the layout to be repositioned and moved around the room easily.

And the wobble is completely gone!

Monday, November 5, 2018

N Scale Toaster Update

The basis of the N scale AEM-7--'Toaster'--project is Fleischmann's Rc4 model, and the first challenge was couplers. On the left, the Rc4 has been fitted with a Bachmann EZ Mate coupler; on the right, the Rc4 fitted with a Dapol magnetic coupler. The Dapol coupler is intended to be a substitute for Rapido couplers on buffer-equipped UK and continental European rolling stock. As a result, the Dapol couplers sit low, and are roughly the same volume and reach as Rapido couplers in the foreground; note the height in comparison. In short, the Dapols will not mate with the MicroTrains/Kato/Accumate/EZ Mate knuckle couplers that are more or less standard on US N scale rolling stock. I had hoped the Dapols would work on the Rc4s, but alas, I devised a method for attaching the shank of a Bachmann EZ Mate coupler to the shank of the stock Rapido couplers. I am surprised that MicroTrains has not introduced an appropriately shanked coupler that fits in the NEM standard socket common to many contemporary European N models.  
Getting ready for prime time: over in the paint shop, the Shapeways/Imperial AEM-7 shells have received a coat of GSI/Creos Mr. Surfacer. Note that the bottom half of the loco's pilots have been removed to accomodate the truck-mounted couplers. The coat of paint revealed prominent stratification and other artifacts of the 3D printing process. I anticipate that several coats of Mr. Surfacer, with careful sanding and polishing in between coats, will be required before they are ready for finishing in Amtrak colors. One will get an as-delivered Phase III paint scheme; the other will be finished in the Phase V scheme, which these Toasters wore at the time of their retirement.

Fleischmann Rc4 frame modifications in progress. On the left, the exposed silver metal indicates where the frame has been filed to fit the Shapeways/Imperial AEM-7 shell. On the right, note the installed TCS EUN651P-18 decoder; this is apparently the only US market decoder that fits in this model.

Monday, October 29, 2018

NMRA Middle East Region Meet Sights and Experiences

Bernie Kempinski's O scale civil war layout, essentially a museum-like mega diorama of Union Army logistics operations in Northern Virginia in 1863 or 1864, was a highlight of the MER meet. Most of the rolling stock and all of the structures are scratch built, and of course there are several hundred figures and horses scattered around the layout. Note the flatcar load of horse fuel.
The National Model Railroad Association Mid East Region held its big meet on 4-7 October 2018 in my own neighborhood of Rockville, Maryland. There was an extensive menu of clinics--presentations with varying degrees of audience participation--covering techniques, and my favorite, philosophy and approaches to model railroading. On the side, NMRA and MER officers met to discussion Region and Association business.

My favorite experiences of the event were the layout visits. The visits afforded interesting interaction with other modelers, and also convey a lot of information that doesn't come across easily in magazine articles or  clinic presentations.

If there was a theme to this MER meet's layout visits, it was 'O Scale Has NOT Left the Building'. Among the layouts I visited, there were three outstanding, mature O scale layouts that each individually demonstrated the strengths of well-executed, vista-filling O scale. 

Other scales and approaches were on proud display as well, with my first visits to basement-filling N scale and narrow gauge layouts.

John Sethian's layout was featured in the November 2017 issue of Model Railroader, and the photos--while good--just didn't do this layout justice. The focus is electified Pennsy in the 50s, which of course got my attention! John and I bonded over our love of electrics, catenary, and pantographs, but my big takeaway is the vehicle and structure detail is the soul of urban scenery. John also validated to me that heavy electric modelers must embrace a life of black smithery and kitbashing--even in O scale, which I had always thought of as the most heavy electric-friendly of the scales.

Chris Smith's O scale N&W layout takes a different but equally impressive approach to big-time, classic-era railroading. Chris' design and vision shows a lot of John Armstrong design influence, and he has packed in a lot of railroad into a modest space--all without seeming like a spaghetti bowl. The impressive vertical scenery is important here, but so is the layout's height, elevation, and lighting. These huge trains (a small car could parked in the space shown in this photo) appear even huger in reality because they are somewhere between chest and scalp height. The carefully managed viewpoints also convey the drama of big Appalachian railroad--the grades are perceptible without looking like Alpine rack railroads. Imagine O scale N&W jackshaft and massive Virginian electrics on a layout like this!

Monroe Stewart's N scale Hooch Junction has also graced the pages of Kalmbach magazines. This basement-sized layout requires a three or four person crew just to run trains around for visitors! The logistics of this large layout was overwhelming and impressive--it has what amounts to a server closet full of DCC and other electrical gear.  This port area is many times the size of an N scale hollow core door layout. This is one of several large industrial areas; there is significant mountainous terrain with deep gorges and high peaks in between. 

Jane and Pete Clarke are principals in the East Broad Top historical society, so it stands to reason that their large HOn3 EBT layout accurately reflects the look and operations of the EBT. In my humble opinion, narrow gauge outside of the Rockies gets a pretty short shrift in the model railroading universe, so seeing this fully realized, prototype-based layout was an unexpected pleasure. I have since had a lucky opportunity to operate on this layout. Jane and Pete meticulously plan and execute their op sessions based on actual EBT practices and traffic, and the carefully planned layout exemplifies the 'design for operation' approach. Hearing about how Jane and Pete have built their rolling stock roster gave me a new appreciation for the challenges of modeling the obscure--and here I thought my South Shore and heavy electric models were far and few between. 

At the MER convention site, a large FREMO module display featuring modules from all over the mid-Atlantic Seaboard region. Here are the Philly area FREMOers with their ambitious heavy electric modules--some already have catenary, and these will eventually have wire as well.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Signs of Life in North American DCC Development?

When last we visited the topic of DCC, I lamented that North American DCC manufacturers have been slow to update their control systems to the state of the art of general consumer electronic devices (think iPhones, iPads, Android, Nests, etc.) or even to late-generation European DCC control systems (look at these Piko, ESU, and Z21 offerings). But there are some hopeful signs of life in the North American DCC control market.

Since that post, Digitrax has offered its LNWI module that can serve as a gateway for wifi-enabled throttles and smart phone apps, but there have been few other new DCC control products introduced into the North American model railroad marketplace. The LNWI module can even facilitate use of an ESU Mobile Control II with an existing Digitrax system, so modelers who are interested in dipping their toes into late-generation DCC control can do so without completely recapitalizing their existing Digitrax system.

Meanwhile, there are rumors in the hobby shops and train shows that one of the big US DCC manufacturers will soon introduce a new LCD-faced control device similar to the smartphone-like Piko, ESU, and Z21 controllers, but alas, our hobby is a festering hive of rumored new products, and ever shall it be. But maybe there's something to such rumors?

A recent announcement from Train Control Systems (TCS) indicates that TCS--primarily a decoder manufacturer--is joining the late-generation DCC control revolution. TCS is looking for user experience (UX) and digital design experts to join their development team. The  announcement leans heavily into a vision for a graphic user interface approach to decoder programming. In other words--more buttons, sliders, and intuitive approaches to representing decoder programming on a computer screen. JMRI accomplishes some of this now, but the concept could use some modernization and UX improvement.

I'll be excited to see where TCS takes this concept, and to see where the other North American DCC makers take their controllers next.

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Northeast Corridor Substation for the Old Line Corridor

The DesignDyne/Shapeways NEC Substation in place on the Old Line Corridor
Substations on the Northeast Corridor have a distinctive look that I wanted to capture on the Old Line Corridor. I originally built a Piko (available for a time as Con-Cor) substation, but it looked European to my utility industry eye--and it just didn't have the distinctive lines or towering bulk of NEC substations.

Test Fitting: the DesignDyne/Shapeways Northeast Corridor
Substation with a little tiny Piko/Con-Cor substation inside
 it. Note the bowing of the outside columns.
DesignDyne/Shapeways, maker of OLC's catenary towers, offers a wide variety of other NEC right-of-way details, mostly in HO. When I noticed that HO NEC substations were on offer from DesignDyne, I sent a message to Steven Smith of DesignDyne inquiring whether an N scale version of the substation might be possible. After some back and forth with Steven over the practicality of the model--certain small details like insulators are difficult or impossible to render in these 3D printing processes--we arrived at a simplified version of the substation, which I then ordered. Here's a link to the DesignDyne N scale substation.

A few weeks later I received an enormous box containing the N scale NEC substation. It is printed in 'White Natural Versatile Plastic', which is stronger than the 'Frosted Ultra Detail' (since replaced by 'Smooth Fine Detail Plastic') from which OLC's catenary bridges were rendered. On the plus side, WNVP comes from Shapeways 'clean' and is not coated with a waxy film of print residue that must be removed in a bath of hexane or Bestine. A soap and water rinse is all the prep this 3D printing material needs before painting. On the negative side, WNVP has a rough, porous finish. For a background structure model of this size, volume, and lattice detail, the WNVP material gets the job done, and is strong to boot.

My substation was a little warped. The end columns bowed outward, which I suspect is a function of the structure, rather than a flaw in the material: skinny, unbraced lattice columns, and curling in the 1 mm- thick spacer straps connecting the concrete footings at the bottom of the model.  Indeed, putting downward pressure on the straps actual mitigated the bowing somewhat. But I also gently clamped a rigid scrap of straight hardwood to the most bowed end columns and applied some gentle heat from a craft heat gun. After each column cooled back to room temperature, I unclamped the wood, which corrected the worst of the bowing.
What a difference black primer makes! The paint brought out the detail and transformed the look of the model in a short time.
The model was somewhat challenging, though not impossible to paint. First, the WNVP is  a challenging material to paint--the porosity soaks up the paint and necessitates multiple coats. For a structure that will be shades of dark gray and rusty oxide brown, the rough finish should not be a particularly distracting feature. The structure itself is also challenging to paint, particularly the many hard-to-reach interior surfaces of the intricate lattice.

I used Badger Stynylrez black primer, which, despite being a water-based paint, is a true rugged primer with strong adhering qualities. Stynylrez has some specific instructions that are somewhat unusual compared to other model-oriented paint. It should not be thinned, and is recommended be sprayed at 25-30 PSI using a .5 mm or heavier needle. To get all the nooks and crannies, it took me an hour or so using my Grex Tritium airbrush.

While the primer set for a day or so, I puzzled over how to paint this. These substations were originally painted an aluminum color, which would be appropriate for a 30s-early 60s era model, but from the Penn Central period to the present, most of these substations--along with catenary towers and other right-of-way infrastructure--weathered to a rusty grime color. A few in New Jersey have been repainted in aluminum in recent years, but most I've seen between DC and Philadelphia are weathered rusty grime. So I airbrushed additional coats of rusty browns and dull grays with Vallejo Air colors I had on hand. I also used folded 3x5 cards as masks to shoot the footings with Vallejo Air's excellent concrete color, a buff gray shade.

The painted and weathered substation glued to .080" styrene cut to fit it on the OLC with Liquid Nails. All that clamping ensures that the model's base is perfectly flat and that the columns are square and straight. It dried for over 24 hours.
The base for the substation was cut from a large sheet of .080" styrene. I traced the odd-shaped site on a sheet of newspaper, which I trimmed with scissors until it fit in the roughly arrowhead-shaped site. I used the paper to trace onto the styrene sheet, and got to cuttin' and sandin' to fit. Once the fit was good, I glued the the substation to base with a thin bead of Liquid Nails project cement and then used many, many clamps to ensure that the substation base was squarely attached to the heavy styrene.

Blending the base with Vallejo ground texture.
Once the glue set and the clamps removed, I fit some .040" styrene in between the base straps make a more-or-less flush, continuous surface for attaching the Piko/Con-Cor substation. Vallejo Diorama Effects Rough Grey Pumice ground texture, an acrylic gel-based scenery product, applied with a palette knife, blended the base straps and styrene into a continuous, smooth base.

After the Vallejo ground texture dried, the Piko/Con-Cor substation was glued in with white Elmer's glue, and more Vallejo ground texture built up to blend in the 1/8"-thick  Piko/Con-Cor substation base  into the overall base. Z scale gravel and turf materials were glued down with thinned white Elmer's glue to blend all together.

Ground cover roughed in before the painstaking Gold Medal
Models fence installation. Temporarily sited on the layout,
the T-pins will guide application of glue and scenery materials.
Gold Medal Models chain link fence with barbed wire fence, painted with Rustoleum primer and Camo Brown was installed around the perimeter of the substation. Working with this photo etch product and ensuring that the fence posts were appropriately located and drilled was the most tedious and painstaking step of this substation project.

Once the fencing and base ground texture were dry, a bead of earth-colored Vallejo ground texture was applied to the edges of the substation site on the layout, and a bead of Elmer's white glue on the bottom of the substation base. T-pins stuck into the layout around the edges of the .080" styrene base marked where the ground texture and glue should go. Once the base was maneuvered into position, the T-pins were plunged in to firmly clamp the base to the layout, which set for another day or so.
The T-pins were removed once the ground texture and glue were dry, and final scenery blending commenced. First, more ground texture was added to blend and smooth the base into the layout. Various turf, ballast, and vegetation materials were then added to finally blend the substation into the layout.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Best Camera is...

BNSF action: a transfer move overtakes a unit train near Denver Union Station.
...the camera you have with you, which applies to railfan photography as much as it does 'normal' photography. My trusty iPhone is the camera I have with me most often, and I've managed some remarkably good catches over the past year or so during travel and around my home area here in suburban Washington.

Admittedly, the iPhone camera is limited in functionality compared to a fully-featured camera. But it also has some intriguing low light features, including High Dynamic Range (HDR) capabilities that allow quality photography under a variety of adverse lighting conditions. This capability--in combination with the the fact that it is usually immediately accessible and available--make for exciting photo opportunities. I have found that those limited features force a focus (see what I did there?) on fundamentals of composition and planning.

A CSX unit train idles, awaiting orders to move out of Nashville's 'Gulch' at Kane Avenue tower on a rainy Saturday in early September 2018.

Denver's RTD Light Rail at Union Staion

RTD Heavy Rail Service, which serves Denver's distant and sprawling airport as well the northwest 'burbs.

Another view of BNSF action in downtown Denver near Union Station.

Closer to home, a brand new Siemens Charger diesel pushes a commuter train into Washington DC at Garrett Park, MD

Cab of an inbound MARC train, also in Garrett Park.

A more 'normal' MARC MP36PH-3C pulling a train into Garrett Park.
We travel frequently to Connecticut and ride Metro North from New York City to Danbury area. Here are Metro North M9 electric MUs in Stamford, Connecticut. 
This bit of Metro North is the former New Haven line into Danbury, which was once electrified (holla!) and still has many of the old catenary towers in place. Nowadays diesels do the work, like this rebuilt diesel sporting the modern take on classic McGinness New Haven paint scheme.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Calumet Region N Scale Models: The Long View

On the bench: Island Model Works/Shapeways South Shore/NICTD Nippon Sharyo body shell (buy it here). A quick test shows it will fit on the Kato RDC drive with a bit of of judicious filing and fiddling. Will need some Faively-style pantographs and some decal-bashing in addition to silver paint and window glazing.
N scale models of prototypes from my home area--the Calumet Region of Northwest Indiana--keep turning up, and I keep adding them to my rolling stock roster.

Walthers updated and re-ran its N SW1200 earlier this year, and offered it in two different Calumet Region paint schemes: Indiana Harbor Belt and Elgin Joliet and Erie. I picked up the IHB version, and would pick up another road number and even the EJ&E version if one presented itself. The SW is a fine loco, but its DCC decoder installation is quite fussy owing to very tricky disassembly that can result in mangling vital pickup wipers. The IHB SW is an excellent complement to Bluford's IHB transfer caboose, two of which I also acquired.

Another N surprise turned up on the Island Model Works store on Shapeways, which is a South Shore/NICTD Nippon Sharyo coach shell. The actual Shapeways item is inexplicably called 'Nss Single 12-2016' but it is unmistakably a South Shore stainless steel coach. It appears to be scaled down from IMW's HO resin offering of this same car, construction of which has been covered here previously on Up Dunes Junction. A test fitting suggests the shell will fit with some fiddling and grinding over the Kato RDC drive. In particular, the interior features posts that extend from the roof down to a few millimeters or so shy of the of side bottom, suggesting it would fit on to a conventional floor as on the IMW HO version of this car. To fit on the thick Kato RDC drive, these interior posts will need to be shortened by another few millimeters.
Bluford IHB transfer caboose and Walthers IHB SW1200. The decoder install in the SW is a tight, difficult fit, but it is a good runner, no small feat in such a small, light locomotive.
An unexpected treat showed up during a visit to the monstrous Caboose Hobbies during a business trip to Denver, the Grasselli Interlocking Tower produced by Region Specific Models. Grasselli was a typical Northern Indiana interlocking tower in East Chicago. It has since been relocated to the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum in North Judson, Indiana, where it will be restored. This kit is made from laser-cut craft board, and will actually be pretty tiny when completed--but iconic for its typical Calumet region look.
The RSM Grasselli kit, based on an iconic Indiana prototype.
In addition to the pictured Calumet Region models, kits, and parts, I have been patiently awaiting the arrival of several Intermountain EJ&E SD38s. These non-turbocharged road switchers were a constant presence in my childhood hometown of Dyer, Indiana, where the EJ&E (now CN) crossed the old Monon (later L&N, Family Lines, and currently CSX), and the throaty drum roll of these normally-aspirated EMDs became the first locomotives I could recognize by their sound. Apparently, Intermountain's run of SD38s has been stalled in the latest episode of Model Railroad Industrial Complex drama, the abrupt closing of the Affa model train factory in China. Apparently the patriarch of the Affa company up and retired, leading to the closure of the factory, although rumors and speculation about trade wars, tariff hikes, and the like have been running rampant in internet-based forums. Nonetheless, Model Railroad Industrial Complex insiders at Con-Cor and Rapido have provided separate but consistent accounts of how the Affa closure came to pass, and have assured that the ecosystem of Chinese model railroad manufacturers will pick up the slack over the next year. In the meantime, I will patiently await my order of SD38s.

Readers may be wondering: don't I already have an HO South Shore layout?  The whole point of my N scale sojourn and Old Line Corridor has been modeling Northeast Corridor prototypes that have been impractical to cover in HO, so why all the fuss over N scale models of Calumet Region prototypes?

For the moment, my focus will remain on NEC prototypes in N and Calumet Region, including the South Shore--in HO. But I'm thinking ahead to my future model railroading, where I anticipate time and resources for model railroading but maybe somewhat less space or more transitory space. My spouse and I are eyeballing our possible (retired) future without a large house--or even living between multiple smaller houses.

In other words, a portable, space-conscious approach to model railroading is likely to be in my future, perhaps even modular model railroading using the T-Trak, N-Trak, or Free-Mo standard. The modular approach would give me an opportunity to build some Calumet Region layout design elements, and provide an appropriate venue for running Calumet Region equipment.

Fortunately, I live in prime N scale module territory: our excellent local Northern Virginia NTrak (NVNTrak) club has both NTrak and T-Trak divisions. I'm looking forward to getting to know the  NVNTrak gang in the future, and modeling my favorite Calumet Region railroads.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Mind the (Background) Gap

The source photo, before extensive
Photoshop-pery to blend it in.
When I visited the Northwest Indiana area--known in those parts as 'The Region'--I had several high priority to-do items, including eating some Aurelio's pizza and finally photographing the Mineral Springs crossing. I needed a good shot down Mineral Springs Road in the direction of Lake Michigan to fill the gap in the HO Dunes Junction backdrop. The appearance of oblivion elicits comment from everyone who visits the layout, and I have wanted to remediate this unsightly gap for the five or six years the backdrop and scenery have been in place. After some trial and error, I got the photo where it needed to be with Photoshop and numerous tries at the printer.
Before: that oblivion look. Is that the end of the world? Or just a high cliff overlooking Lake Michigan? Many visitors to
the layout—my father-in-law in particular—immediately call attention to this gaping sight.

After: I cleaned up the photo and used Adobe Photoshop to transform the photo, primarily to match up the angle of the road and roughly match up the coloration of the road surface and vegetation. Still not perfect, but it makes the point and solves a pesky visual distraction on Dunes Junction.

Monday, September 17, 2018


Quick! A train! I caught this CSX freight snaking out of Radnor Yard while we were conducting an impromptu craft beer crawl after a biscuit-heavy brunch in The Gulch neighborhood of Nashville.
My wife, Rachel's attendance at a rail industry trade show occasioned a visit to Nashville, Tennessee, recently. It was an immersion into the city's ample cultural offerings--food and drink everywhere, and there was country and pop music emanating from most doorways and even sewer grates--and on the side I managed to squeeze in more than my usual amount of collateral rail fanning.

The best camera is the one you have with you. After a busy and rainy morning of trade show logistics, I captured this image of a CSX coal unit train waiting at the historic Nashville L&N station with my iPhone. I bumped into another railfan in this same spot who turned out to be Brian Schmidt, a Trains magazine editor who was in town for the rail industry trade show.
A CSX intermodal train passes hip and trendy condos in the Gulch. Not visible to the right, my new railfanning pal Brian Schmidt cursing me for distracting him from his railfan photography with my irresistible conversation skills.

A GP38 road slug set knocking covered hoppers around the Gulch.

Get a load of this lovingly painted transition-era Louisville and Nashville Geep at the Tennessee Central museum.

Serious dudes trying to stay out of the way
of real railroad operations: Andy Elkins,
center, yours truly on the right,
Another of Tennessee Central's workhorses is this SW wearing early Illinois Central-inspired colors.
Day two of my visit to Nashville was full of intriguing surprises. Friend and colleague Andy Elkins--a fellow infrastructure protection professional--gave me the backstage tour of Nashville that included the Tennessee Central rail museum, barbecue restaurants, and cab ride on Nashville's budding commuter rail line, the Music City Star.
Ex-Amtrak F40PH #121 powered our Music City Star train.

Obligatory front-end view of F40PH #121.

The cab end approaches the Nashville station. The car's Chicago Metra heritage is
apparent in the colors and lines.

In this cab car view, our inbound train is in the hole for a meet with an outbound train.

Outbound view from the F40PH cab. Unlike many commuter rail lines, the Music City Star route is curvy, single track, and features many interesting bridges and scenic views.