Friday, May 25, 2012

Again with the Mountain Railroading? How about a flatland railroading book?

This little ditty was in my email a few days ago . . .
If model railroading publishing giant Kalmbach really wanted to impress us, they'd get Tony Koester
to do a flatland railroading book instead of mountains, again.

I got an email a few days ago announcing Kalmbach's newest Tony Koester title, Model Railroader’s Guide to Mountain Railroading, and I thought, "oh swell, more tunnels, more coal mines, more puff-ball trees, more rock castings, more basements full of Rockies and Appalachia . . ."

Don't get me wrong--I am actually a Kalmbach superfan, with a long history of subscriptions to and even a couple of by-lines in Kalmbach magazines, plus a sizeable library of Kalmbach books.

But I do think those nice people at Kalmbach love them some mountain-y railroads. I came up as a little guy reading Model Railroader and Trains--and for a long time, I thought the trains in my home area of Northwest Indiana were somehow deficient because we had no tunnels or mountain vistas or high trestles or any of that stuff that seems to get a lot editorial love up in Waukesha.

In addition to this new book, Model Railroader just concluded a Virginian HO project layout, and the year before, a high desert N Utah layout--both were outstanding examples of what could be done in small spaces with decidedly non-exotic materials and techniques (that N layout ran on Kato Unitrack, for crying out loud).

But it's always mountains, mountains, mountains.

Sure, I know that tunnels and bare rock faces and trestles are all 'model-genic' but I would really like to see Kalmbach and its experts like Tony Koester turn their creative guns on the great flat spaces that are actually what a lot of American railroading actually looks like.

So, hey Kalmbach, how about a project layout or a book featuring the glorious flatlands? It actually shouldn't be too hard: after all, Tony Koester does have a flatland layout in his basement, and so does Bill Darnaby, who has penned an article or two for Model Railroader and the Layout Planning annuals that Tony edits.

A project layout in one of the big model railroading magazines featuring midwest themes is certainly overdue. Maybe Tony and Bill could build a layout from one of those Layout Design Element 4x8 plans that have turned up in Model Railroader and its specials, with a town or scene on the front of the layout and staging area on the back, out of sight.

There would be lots of flatland-specific techniques to show off in such a project layout. For example, trees, weeds, crops, and other vegetation of the flatlands, or region-specific architecture, right-of-way, and engineering practices. The visual trickery of seeming featureless landscapes could also be covered--how to disguise passages through backdrops, or use of forced perspective.

I'd buy it if they printed it.  I'll probably buy the mountain book, anyway, though, too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Own Awful Truth: Temporary Markings for the Geep

Doesn't it look awesome? Now I have a reminder of its DCC address. It will also shame me into getting this project done.
I didn't come up with this myself--that wiseacre Joe Fugate guy at Model Railroad Hobbyist wrote in his May 2012 "Reverse Running: The Awful Truth" column about how he used yellow sticky notes to temporarily re-number some out-of-the-box diesels. I needed to do this so I could have a visual reminder of the number I programmed into its DCC decoder--it's the number that I will eventually apply.

While I gleaned a marvelous modeling tip from Joe's column, he was actually telling a story about how people who build layouts don't have time to finish fancy locomotive projects. But I'll take a good modeling tip wherever I can find one.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Some More Thoughts on Photography

A lot of good insights here, a few of which directly apply to model and railroad photography:

100 Tips from a Professional Photographer [Photography]

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Northwest Indiana Trains in the New York Times

Indiana Harbor Belt's Gibson Yard in Hammond, IN in National News.  The South Shore is a mile or two north of this
spot.  Purdue Calumet, my alma mater, is a few miles south. Memories! | Nathan Weber for The New York Times
Trains of northwest Indiana are in the news again, this time in a New York Times article on the project to improve rail connections and grade crossings around Chicago. The photo above appeared in all its glory at the top of the web version of the story. That is Indiana Harbor Belt's Gibson yard in Hammond, Indiana--my old stompin' grounds. Drove across that bridge hundreds of times on my way back and forth to classes at Purdue Calumet.  If I weren't a South Shore modeler, I'd think really hard about an IHB layout--lots of good small layout possibilities, not to mention a roster of small-radius friendly SWs and GPs.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Takeaways from Photography at Dunes Junction

Samsung TL500
Something I strive to do with each Up Dunes Junction post is include some decent photographs. Part of this photograph policy is the conventional wisdom of blogging--posts with pictures get more hits, supposedly, but it's not as if Up Dunes Junction is Gawker or Huffington Post or some other 'mainstream' blog that counts on millions of visitors. I'm not going for lots of hits--just trying to share and make friends with other model railroaders, heavy electric fans, and South Shore watchers.
So photographs help me tell the Dunes Junction story. And because we are talking railroading and model railroading, which is a very visual enterprise, photos, or at least illustrations and graphics, are an essential part of the storytelling.

I became interested in photography in my teens because of trains.  I started with a 110 Instamatic and graduated to Canon 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) cameras by the 80s. I've since joined the digital revolution--and it's difficult to overstate how digital has made photography cheaper, better, and easier than it ever has been ever to photograph trains, big and small.

Sony NEX-7 with 18-55mm lens
My own approach to photography for Up Dunes Junction demonstrates how inexpensive gear, plus some relatively easy techniques, can yield decent model railroad photos.  Most of the photos on the blog were taken with a so-called advanced point-and-shoot camera--a Samsung TL500--but more basic point-and-shoots can yield images of comparable quality.

A digital SLR or one of the new mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras offers more options and controls. I recently acquired a Sony NEX-7 interchangeable lens camera, which I have been using for my most recent Up Dunes Junction photos.  It offers a decent selection of lenses and very fine exposure and focus control, as well as an excellent wireless remote control.
The main trick is to use built-in close-up and self-timer features and a cheap tripod. Most point-and-shoots have a close-up feature marked with a flower icon--this will give good close focus.  Self-timer mode eliminates camera shake, as does the cheap tripod. If a remote or cable release is possible, it will also eliminate camera shake. 

Sony NEX-7 camera on tripod next to Dunes Junction
The other trick is practice and repetition.  When I first shot trains back in the late 70s, I carefully budgeted each shot because of costs--in those days, each image cost around 30 cents apiece.  Now multiple shots at different settings and lighting conditions cost virtually nothing--and you only need show the good images.  I estimate that for every photo that makes it on to the blog, I discard around ten or so.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Northwest Indiana flavor to go with the Northwest Indian Trains

Jean Ishmon, pal of my wife and me, is a fellow Northwest Indiana native who occasionally hangs out in Washington but is still very much connected to 'The Region.' (Which is what people call Northwest Indiana, home of the South Shore--it's not really fully part of the Chicago suburbs, yet also different from the rest of mostly rural Indiana)
Zel's roast beef is what you eat in South Shore country. Polo shirt courtesy Jean Ishmon, my 'Region' pal.
Jean visited recently and with the conspiratorial help of my wife, brought me one of my favorite Region culinary treats, a Zel's roast beef sandwich.  Think of an Arby's sandwich, but made with real, thinly sliced, juicy roast beef instead of latex solar beef or whatever Arby's is made of.  Jean had the sandwich lovingly packed by Zel's awesome staff, and then smuggled it to Washington via planes, trains, and automobiles. It was delicious and brought a tear to my as I ate for lunch at work last week. I don't want to rat her out, but I think she might also have flagrantly defied various authority figures along the way.

As an added bonus, Jean also managed to rustle up a rare Zel's polo shirt, seen above. This shall henceforth be my 'running trains' shirt.  Thanks, Jean, for the awesome treat and cool bit of Northwest Indiana culture to go with my Northwest Indiana trains!