Sunday, March 27, 2016

3D Printed N Scale Penny Catenary Bridge

Recently arrived from Shapeways: this 3D printed N scale Pennsy catenary bridge. The designer is
arqtectdesigner, and he has a variety of N and HO Pennsy items on offer at his store on on the Shapeways site.
The bridge is very crisply detailed and the material appears sturdy and flexible, with mounting holes in
the footings for a strong mechanical attachment to the right-of-way.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Comedy Writer at The Onion Knows Trains

Courtesy of
We've noted here previously that the slips an occasional train bit into its seeming never-ending feed of satirical comedy. Here's the latest, riffing on the intersection of unrealistic beauty standards and Thomas the Tank Engine. (Turns out Thomas is a frequent target of the Onion's skewer). Someone on the Onion's staff knows trains! And comedy! Great to know a leading media institution has been infiltrated by a train freak, or at least someone who knows train freakdom.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Things You Can't (and Can) See in N Scale

Steering clear of the trains: fenceless cattle avoiding the
Santa Fe main line on  Jim Kelly's N scale Tehachapi Layout
Photo: Jim Kelly | Model Railroader |
The March issue of Model Railroader magazine had a commentary about how certain details just don't show up or matter in N scale. (Here's a link to the beginning of the piece; the full article is apparently paywalled, or find an actual copy of the magazine). The author, Jim Kelly, is an MR 'old hand' who was bravely modeling in N back in the 70s and 80s; now he has a more-or-less regular column thinkin' and musin' on N scale.

Jim started off discussing how fences and the like aren't visible from a distance, so he doesn't model fences. Later, he went off on a bit of a tangent regarding not modeling things he doesn't like, like rutty temporary access roads. 

Re-reading this article and looking at the accompanying picture from Jim's inspirational Tehachapi layout, I realize that I agree with Dr. Jim's diagnosis but not his treatment. Regarding fences in specific, I don't think omitting them completely is as effective as modeling the parts of the fence you actually can see from a distance--such as the fence posts. 

How to meet the challenge of interpreting and representing small or gossamer details is one of the differentiating features of excellent N scale and indeed all small scale modeling. Closely related to the artistry of fine detail in small scale is the artistry of color in small scale-- gloss and highlights, and colors generally, should be muted on smaller models. In short, N scalers can't just reproduce detail rivet for rivet or match a color chip--they have to get good at suggesting detail, and portraying color as if from a distance. 

To really see the mastery of such tiny detail and subtle coloration, just Google 'best 1/700 naval models'. Here are models some four or more times smaller in scale than N scale trains. The really outstanding 1/700 ship models are masterfully painted and weathered, and have just enough detail added to make the viewer fill in the blanks of what is actually invisible from thousands of feet or even miles away. 

As I plan my Old Line Corridor N scale layout, I have given thought to a particularly gossamer but pervasive detail around the Northeast Corridor and electrified Pennsy lines: catenary. Lately I've been looking at every electrified railroad picture that comes my way and asking, 'Can I see the wire?' And the answer is, 'it depends'. Depends on the angle, distance, lighting. Sometimes in close-ups it's there as if scrawled onto the photo with a Sharpie, but a lot of time the wire is wisps or traces. Other times, it's a crazy miasma of lines, arcs, and planes (the geometric kind) over the tracks.

The better question is, 'What do I see that makes this an electric railroad?' Poles and cross bridges are the obvious answer, but one detail that's sticks out is insulators, which often are the visual queue or hint that there's a wire running this way or that. And when wire is visible from a distance, it's not a lone wire, but a tangle, or it's not the contact wire but some other kind of transmission or guy wire. 

I've noted previously that 'fake' catenary is a thing worthy of consideration, particularly in smaller scales or for photography. My next step is to experiment with the accoutrements of fake catenary--I'm accumulating a small collection of poles, bridges, string, wire for a fake catenary experiment. Check back in a few weeks to see the results.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Trains I See, Vidalia, Georgia Edition

Back on a rainy afternoon in October or so, this Georgia Central freight went by the hotel at which I was staying in Vidalia, Georgia. The 'Off the Beaten Track Branchline Railroading' group on Facebook was helpful in figuring what this is.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Old Line Corridor Horsetrade

Fussy pans that made my
catenary building better
Loyal Up Dunes Junction readers probably have picked up on my penchant for pretty much any pantograph-equipped North American locomotive or car, in addition to my professed favorite prototype Chicago, South Shore, and South Bend RR equipment. As a result, I accumulated a fair bit of HO Northeast Corridor equipment over the years, including a beautiful GG1 and a stunning FL9 (very tiny pantograph), not to mention examples of Bachmann's and Atlas' occasional heavy electric offerings.

That vestigial micro pan worked
like buttah!
The question that has nagged at me over the years of accumulating these gems has been, 'when or where will I ever run them?' All of these models were part of my regime for testing my catenary, so I can honestly say that they have run under wire (which was pretty easy for the FL9).

Excellent runner and captain of
the catenary testing team
But running them as they were intended, followed by strings of passenger or freight cars, under Pennsy H-bridges or even New Haven triangle catenary did not appear to be in the cards. I had even given thought to joining up with a group of heavy electric module modelers up in Philadelphia, but alas that is hundreds of miles away and my new work travel schedule has dampened my desire to spend whole weekends away from hearth and home.

This guy was a growler
An unsung hero of a model: excellent
runner done right, but apparently
Bachmann couldn't give 'em away. 
So when I started thinking about the N scale display layout that I am now calling the Old Line Corridor, it didn't take me long to figure out that a major horse trade of my modest HO NEC fleet could net me the core of a new N scale NEC fleet.

So I put all of my HO NEC gear up on eBay. I also liquidated my collection of unbuilt rare Star Wars kits also destined for closet glory. The result was a tidy PayPal nut that covered not only new a N scale Pennsy/NEC fleet but also a supply of Peco code 55 track and turnouts.
Dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria: N scale Northeast Corridor equipment, living side by side with my HO South Shore and Chicagoland equipment. The Kato ACS-64 and the GG-1s are especially fine models, but the Acela will be an, ahem, project. Bonus points if you can identify the sci-fi subjects on the edges of the photo.
Most of the N scale gear I picked up is Kato. Kato's N GG-1 caught my eye when it was first introduced a few years ago, and a photo from one of Kato's ads showed up here once. I mentioned Kato's ACS-64 here in a recent post, but is currently only available in a set with some beautifully done Amfleet I passenger cars. I'm already looking forward to seeing this locomotive offered with new road numbers and in the special new Veterans paint scheme.  Bachmann's HHP-7s and Acela round out the modern fleet--they look great but require some tinkering to get running smoothly. The 'Hippos' came with DCC, and decoder installations for the Kato gear were easy with Digitrax drop-in decoders.

Tinkering with these models--installing DCC, couplers, and the like--was intimidating at first, but it didn't take long to get accustomed to the smallness, nay, the tininess of it all. The power and appeal of these models really came across during test runs and programming. I am now looking forward to building the layout on which to run these models.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Railfanning Cumberland, Maryland

In mid December, my photographer and beer connoisseur friend Mike Collins and I railfanned the Cumberland and Frostburg, Maryland area. The highlight of the trip was the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad's 2-8-0 #734. Here it is arriving at Frostburg on a cold clear day.
735 turning on the wye outside of Cumberland.
The engineer oiling his magnificent machine.
Steam on the road.
Mike and I also spent some time at the Cumberland yard location known as 'Mexico'. No idea why it's called that, but the light and the action was interesting.
Another departure from Mexico.