Monday, December 26, 2011

Quick and Dirty Photo Backdrop for Dunes Junction

The quick and dirty photo backdrop in place and permanently mounted.
Before any more scenery building can take place on the Dunes Junction layout, something had to be done about that empty expanse of sky backdrop.  My earlier experiments with a mocked-up treeline made from color photo prints showed that I could fill that sky void with something that would fill the space with some visual 'noise' cheaply and quickly.
The treeline takes shape in Adobe Photoshop, but any old photo editing
tool will do the trick.
The first step in making my quick and dirty photo backdrop was to take some photos of an actual treeline and configure them into a usable treeline for the backdrop.  I took my treeline photos near Ocean Pines, Maryland and then used Adobe Photoshop to combine them into a single panoramic image.  Some newer digital cameras have a 'panorama' or 'photo-stitch' feature that will do this automagically, and there are plenty of cheaper alternatives to Photoshop out there.

The techniques I used to fashion my photos into the backdrop could be the subject of a whole new blog, and there are plenty of resources available online, in print, and elsewhere (such as continuing education classes in your community, and if you are serious enough and want to pause your layout building for a few years, post-graduate degree programs in digital graphics). But what I did was select, move, and scale sections of my panoramic treeline photos to match measurements from my layout, and then used various stamping and healing tools to fill any rough or mismatched spots.  It's not a perfect image, but it is a reasonably convincing 'woods' image.

The next step is to make a correctly sized print.  Based on my previous treeline experiments, the overall height of the treeline needed to be 5" to 5 1/2". I used the scaling and ruler features of PhotoShop to ensure that my treeline conformed to this dimension, and then I switched over to the free Google Picasa program to print the backdrop, because I am too stupid to figure out how to control printing in PhotoShop.
Half of being smart is knowing what your dumb at: Using Picasa
for printing the backdrop cuz I suck at PhotoShop.
Mark Twain reportedly said, "Half of being smart is knowing what your dumb at," and decades later Dirty Harry said, "A man's gotta know his limitations." So I go with what works for me, thus my printing via Picasa. By the way, Picasa has an editor feature that would probably make this whole project do-able with just the one program, but I know my limitations and made things work the way I know how.

I do all my color printing on my trusty Canon IP1600 inkjet printer. Any photo-capable color printer will do, but I picked up this printer on one of those 'free after rebate' deals' that came up at a local electronics or office supply store.  Such deals seem to turn up every week or so here in Washington, and I suspect that if you have a Best Buy, Office Depot, Fry's, or Micro Center within driving distance, it shouldn't be too hard to lay your hands on a Canon, HP, Epson, or whatever brand photo printer for cheap. Of course, this is all a ploy to get you to buy inkjet printing cartridges, which tend to be fairly expensive. But it sure beats a darkroom or waiting for a lab to print photos that may not even work out, because there is a little trial and error involved in getting the photo backdrop right.

A section of the backdrop,
not yet cut or mounted,
I printed my backdrop in sections, on Canon-brand 8 1/2" x 11" matte photo paper. Rubber cement joined the prints, which I set up to overlap by 1/2" or so.  The rubber cement allows a little bit of adjustment (peel the sheets apart and reset them--don't try to slide them), so once they were aligned to my satisfaction, I used a scissors and an X-Acto knife to carefully trim away any sky or excess, leaving a cut-out of the treeline.  A grey-green watercolor art marker subdued the starkly white edges of the cut photo paper, and also filled in flaws.

Using drafting tape (a somewhat less aggressively gummed masking tape), I hung and adjusted the tree line print on the existing sky-colored backdrop, removing and replacing the layout from its brackets several times in the process.  Once it was in a suitable position, I made some discrete pencil marks to note its position.
Drafting tape holds the treeline in place for adjustment. The joints between prints are hard to see in the tree images.
Then I took the tree line print down and gave the back of it a thorough application of rubber cement.  I also applied rubber cement to the areas of the sky backdrop that would be covered by the treeline for some additional tack.  (Spray cement would work great here, but I had some rubber cement handy and didn't feel like making a run back out to the art store.) I used  the pencil marks to carefully align the treeline, and then smoothed out the treeline print to ensure that adhered evenly to the sky backdrop. In a few spots that didn't want to stick, I gently peeled the graphic back and applied an additional dab of rubber cement.

My two roads still head of into a blue void, so I still need to take some photos to fill those two gaps in the backdrop.  But in the meantime, this treeline will create the illusion that a forest lies beyond the trees I will plant in the layout and the dark, textured hues will subdue any shadows that my trees and vegetation might cast.

Onward to to trees!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The OMG Moment of Making Things in Miniature

I'm making trees using the Scenic Express SuperSage starter kit. Sage trunks (gnarly hunks of mini trees) and some kind of dried Scandinavian miracle weed are the main ingredients, along with various foliage and leaf flocking materials.
Unfinished SuperSage tree. No paint or foliage yet-hut look at that detail!
OMG--these things look incredible before they are even finished!  Build-up is somewhat painstaking--but worth it for a foreground-ready tree

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Verdant Green Texture Comes to Dunes Junction

Looking west, we find South Shore GP38-2 2002 contemplating the lush green-ness of it all. That's about half of the earlier mocked-up photo backdrop wedged between the scenery and the back drop.
Layers of stolen baseball dirt and Scenic Express ground foam textures have radically altered the look of Dunes Junction. I was having so much fun--and making such a mess--that I didn't photograph my progress.

I followed Pelle Soeborg's technique of earth colored latex paint, followed by a layer of real dirt (baseball diamond dirt in my case, and then foliage texture. Most of the layout got a green turf blend, but the tree line area next to the backdrop got the forest floor blend with is darker with some coarser texture thrown in for good measure.

I soaked the textures with wet water from a pump sprayer, and the applied three coats or doses of Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement over the course of three days. I tried both a pipette and a pump sprayer to apply the Scenic Cement, and determined that the sprayer put the cement down quickly, as well as evenly and heavily enough to make it my preferred application method.

To get an idea of how the tree line will look, I wedged the old photo backdrop mockups between the scenery and the backdrop. In the coming weeks I will use some Photoshop magic to make a new custom
backdrop that wlll be tailored to he terrain contours.

Next scenery steps will focus on the next layers of vegetation, such as tall weeds and trees.
Looking northeast. The tree line photo backdrop makes a huge difference, and the contrast really shows here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

De-clodifiying Stolen Dirt and More Scenery Progress

Dirt from a baseball diamond, a day or so after its theft
from a local park. Visible are my de-clodifying roller
(a dried-up old bottle of Plastruct Bondene cement) and
manual drying and aeration agitation device (dollar store
rubber spatula, useful for countless scenery chores) 
Scenery building took a short hiatus for the Thanksgiving holiday, but we're getting back on track.

Readers of this blog know I like to mock stuff up and conceptualize. I especially like to do this when my layout looks more like the surface of Tatooine or Arrakis than the Calumet Region of Indiana summertime I am aiming for.

So I painted in Mineral Springs Road and the Dunes Junction parking lot with some cheap acrylic craft paint.  Still looks like a Bantha or a Sandworm might come cruising by, but now with a road and a parking lot.

But seriously, the paint has helped me validate the placement of these key features.

Meanwhile, turns out the one scenery building material I didn't have lying around was dirt. Dave Frary says in his book, and Pelle Soeborg says in his book, to use real dirt as a textural foundation. Dave even suggests that baseball diamond dirt works best.

The painted road and parking lot of Dunes Juction, plus a mocked-up
flagstop shelter for good measure.
So I stole about a half a coffee can's worth of baseball diamond dirt from a local park. It's been drying on top of some newspapers for a day or so.  I used an old round glue bottle to roll out the big clods ('de-clodification' shall be my contribution to the body of scenery building knowledge) and rubber spatula to spread the dirt into an even layer and 'turn' it a couple of times a day to encourage it to dry.  Some folks put there treasured dirt into the oven to dry it out and kill any critters that are in there.  I'll have to figure out a stealthy way to do that when I'm (ahem) alone in the house.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Scenery Base with Colored Sculptamold

Dunes Junction off the brackets and on to the sawhorses. Masking tape protects the weathered and detailed track
This book, by the way,
is a treasure trove of
scenery building information. 
The next stage of Dunes Junction scenery construction: a colored terrain base.  I applied colored Sculptamold over the styrofoam terrain forms after masking off the track and bridge abutments and pier.

I used the Sculptamold coloration technique described in Dave Frary's How to Build Realistic Model Railroad Scenery (3rd Edition).

I mixed one part Benjamin Moore Sedona Brown matte latex paint to three parts water, and then used that to mix with an equal amount of dry Sculptamold, which is a surprisingly fluffy material.

I applied the colored Sculptamold with a rubber spatula--the work went really fast.  It 'set' in a couple of hours and was completely dry within two or three days.  Raw Sculptamold reportedly sets much more quickly and completely dries within a day or so.
A view from the northeast. The variations in color correspond
to the dryness of the Sculptamold.

The latex paint will make future appearances in scenery construction. Frary's technique--repeated often in various Kalmbach scenery how-to books and articles--makes use of earth-colored flat latex as an adhesive and coloration.  One of the features of good scenery is continuity of color and use of a limited palette of colors, and using the same base color across a variety of steps helps to ensure this continuity.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Model Railroad Hobbyist Honcho on Model Railroad Magazines and Future

Joe Fugate, big
honcho of online
magazine Model
Railroad Hobbyist
Over at the publisher's blog at Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine, Joe Fugate, pioneer of internet-based model railroading media, is using fact-based reality--presented via statistics and graphs--to prognosticate about our hobby's future.  The upshot is that old-media paper model railroad magazines are declining in circulation while online venues, like Joe's own MRH, are growing in readership.  Based on this, he sees a much brighter--but different--future than what you might hear about in model railroading communities, both real and virtual:
The decline in the paper magazines begs the question - is the hobby shrinking? We don't think so. We've seen some hobby vendor surveys that suggest the hobby is actually growing slowly ... and Reuters has been reporting that the sales of train sets at Christmas time have been on the rise since 2005.
Spend any time amongst model railroaders--either in 'meat space' (hobby shops, swap meets, clubs, etc.) or in 'cyber space' (yahoo lists, various bulletin boards, podcasts, etc.) and the lamentations about the decline of model railroading will quickly rise to the surface. Lower circulation of Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman, along with the demise of various second-tier magazines like Mainline Modeler and Railmodel Journal, are cited as signs that the hobby is fading.

Go read my comment on Joe's blog.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Roughing in styrofoam scenery

Looking to the west. Track is masked to keep glue and styrofoam chips away.
With the overpass done, I've masked off the track and started roughing in scenery.  Various chunks of styrofoam have been shaped and carved with a Woodland Scenics hot wire foam cutter.  I used the DAP clear glue (leftover from track work) to attach it to the layout.

The green foam came from a local craft store; it's neither beadboard nor extruded foam.  If I were building a larger layout I certainly wouldn't use it--that pink extruded stuff is much easier to work with, and cheaper. But the green block was the right amount of material at the right price.

Mineral Springs Road and the Dunes Junction flagstop foundations are cut from Woodland Scenics 1/4" styrofoam sheet.  The mockups provided the measurements.

Mineral Springs Road and Dunes Junction flagstop. There's a little hump
an inch or so before the backdrop.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Painting the Overpass

The almost final step for the overpass is paint.  Everything got a thorough coat of Floquil Grimy Black followed by a coat of Floquil Concrete for the concrete parts and Tamiya Field Gray (it's what I had on hand) for the steel parts.
Major overpass components painted.
The final-final step will be weathering via washes and drybrushing.  I am waiting for the paint to really set and for the actual scenery to take shape so that the weathering reflects a consistent visual theme.
The overpass from track level or so.
Another view of the overpass.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Road Crossing and Flagstop Placement Options

With the highway overpass nearing completion, I'm thinking about scenery at the other end of the layout, where the Dunes Junction flag stop will be placed at the Mineral Springs Road crossing.

Previously, my mockups had Mineral Springs Road crossing the main at a right angle, but I wanted to have a look at how a more oblique crossing might look.
Mineral Springs Road with a 90-degree crossing of the main line.  The
Dunes Junction flag stop is behind the Little Joe.
The highway overpass crosses the tracks at a 90-degree angle, so I thought I would try for some visual variety with a slanted or oblique crossing. Because I could easily print and cut more road and parking lot elements, I tried variations on the oblique crossing concept before committing to actual scenery.
The road crossing from left in the foreground to right in the back-
ground. Note the mocked-up parking lot.

Another view of the road oriented toward the right.
I preferred the road that slants to the left.  I think it will let me fill the right edge of the layout with a treeline to distract from the dropoff.

The leftward slanted road appealed more to my eye. That area behind and to the right of the flagstop parking lot
will have a treeline and and a modest rise to help disguise the edge of the layout.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

More Progress on the Highway Overpass

The overpass model in progress next to the mock-up.  Railings/jersey barriers are in front of the model--they will be
attached after painting.
One-lane highway overpass deck under
construction, top view. Top surface
is roadway material from the Rix
highway overpass kit.
More progress on the overpass at the west end of Dunes Junction. I used a Rix modern highway overpass kit and various Plastruct and Evergreen styrene stock and shapes, plus some other oddments from my vast collection of hardware. Heavy, durable construction is the objective. I used Tenax styrene cement and Super Jet extensively. To fill cracks and seams, I used Super Jet with accelerator, which is fast--no waiting for putty to dry, and it doesn't shrink as much over time.
Overpass deck, bottom view.  Plastruct 3/8" channels with Evergreen .080"
and .25"x.25" stryrene bracing. Sturdy! GRRR!
Abutment with alignment hole,

That's a finishing nail glued into a hole to align
with  abutment.
Pier bearing detail (Evergreen
.040"x.060" strip) and align-
ment peg sunk into the
.25"x.25" bar stock.
The peg is a piece of big
ol' paper clip.

Pier mounted to a rectangle of .040"
styrene. The top horizontal member
has been shortened and plugged with sheet
styrene. Note hole on top for alignment peg.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Free Kalmbach Download: Modeling Electrified Railroads - Model Railroader Magazine

Here's a free treat from Kalmbach: a digital download of articles on traction and electric modeling.  The focus is inevitably on the trolley pole variety of electrics, but it's a great place to start from the very nice folks who publish Model Railroader magazine.

Modeling electrified railroads - Model Railroader Magazine (Registration Required - Free)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

South Shore Passenger Shelter Papercraft Mock-up

Download a pdf of this cut-n-fold
flagstop passenger shelter
When I'm away from the layout because of travel, I sometimes bring the model railroading with me.

My latest away projects have been focused on my mock-up strategy of making low-cost, low-fi, and quick representations of structures and scenic features for the Dunes Junction layout.

I recently finished laying out an HO papercraft model of a South Shore flagstop passenger shelter using Adobe PhotoShop.  My starting point for the project was a drawing from the June 1981 Railroad Model Craftsman, which I scanned, redrew, and colored.

Click here and then click File>Download Original to download this pdf and print it at 100% for a cut-n-fold papercraft flagstop passenger shelter of your own in O, S, HO, or N scale.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

From Mockup to Model: Beefy Highway Overpass Abutment

A model abutment . . .
. . . starting from this mockup
A couple of weeks ago, I made a mockup of a of the highway overpass at the west end of Dunes Junction. I liked how the mockup looked--its general dimensions and proportions seem to work, so I used it to begin work on an actual highway bridge model.

Bruce Petty showed how he built a highway overpass with styrene sheet and Rix Products highway overpass components in the September 2011 Model Railroader, and my model is drawing on Bruce's techniques.
.040" styrene sheet on the top and
 ends, .080" sheet on the outerwall

1/4" square styrene bracing--
stiff and strong. Grrr!
I did make some key changes to how Bruce built his abutment.  Bruce fabricated his abutments with .030" styrene and Plastruct structural shapes for bracing.  I opted to use heavier materials for extra strength and durability. The outer wall of my abutment is .080" styrene; the ends and top surface is .040" styrene.

To really add some beefy bulkiness to my abutment, I added bracing with 1/4" square styrene strip.  The abutment is quite solid and heavy as a result. This sucker will not warp or even flex.

Next steps: filling and finishing edges of the abutment and preparation for painting. Then the actual span and a support pier.  Stay tuned for more.

Friday, October 28, 2011

South Shore at Hammond/State Line, 1994

More from my shoebox archive: South Shore Sumitomo cars at State Line/Hammond in 1994.  I was in graduate school at nearby Purdue Calumet at the time, and shooting 35mm film with a Canon AE-1 Program I had inherited from my late brother Chuck.
CSS&SB #23 leads a westbound train out of Hammond, sometime in 1994. Steve Lee photo.
CSS&SB passenger train crosses Indiana Harbor Belt at State Line. IHB yard throat in background. Steve Lee photo.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

UPDATED: UK Electric Models With A Little Extra Spark

Feast your eyes on this YouTube video of UK heavy electric models dashing across some of those display modules of which our transatlantic modeling colleagues make such good use.  The modeler, Dave of Westcoast Miniatures, is using fixed-height pantographs that don't contact the catenary wire.

But that arcing effect is awesome, awesome, awesome, and brings the drama and excitement of electric railroading to life.

UPDATE: Don Silberbauer of Model Memories tipped me to this product from Germany, the 'Pantographen-Blitzer' ('pantograph flasher') offered by Viessmann Modellspielwaren.  Not sure if this circuit is intended to work with DCC or straight DC, but I suspect that this manufacturer has set it up so it works with either.  Euro Model Trains and a few other outlets here in the US might be good sources for this product.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Quick Snaps of Road and Tree Line Mockup

Here are my latest bits of mock-uppery. The forest is a photo of a treeline near Ocean Pines, MD, and the road a stock road texture photo. The South Shore flag stop passenger shelter began with a drawings from the June 1981 Railroad Model Craftsman, which I extensively Photoshopped into a cut-and-fold papercraft model. (Look for a future post with a download of the graphic).

South Shore #802 with a very short NIPSCO (NORX) unit train crossing Mineral Springs Road at Dunes Junction
I printed it all on stiff matt photo paper with my trusty free-after-rebate Canon IP1600 inkjet printer, The tree photos are stuck to poster board with rubber cement--cheap model railroad fun with stuff from an office supply store.

Unpainted Nickel Plate Products South Shore combine #100 at the mock-up Dunes Junction flag stop.
Dig those seventies-era cars!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fast Tracks on The Model Railway Show

Tim Warris of Fast Tracks, maker of Bullfrog turnout controls, is a guest this week on my favorite model railroad podcast, The Model Railway Show.  Bullfrog turnout controls were featured here back in May--they're still working great and their simplicity is keeping the zen in my Dunes Junction layout.

And if you haven't checked it out already, go subscribe to Trevor and Jim's outstanding podcast:

The Model Railway Show - The Fast-Paced, Thought-Provoking Podcast!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Instamatic Snaps of the South Shore, 1979

From the archives (actually an old shoebox), comes a few Instamatic 110 snapshots of the South Shore from 1979. This is some of my first railfan photography, ever.
CSS&SB combine #101 at Dune Acres flagstop, looking west toward Miller, June or July 1979. Steve Lee photo
Switchstand and right-of-way detail at Dune Acres, summer 1979. I was anticipating building the Dunes Junction way back then, so I snapped this one for future reference. Steve Lee photo.
Randolph St. station (now Millenium Station) from above, summer 1979. Steve Lee photo.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Juice Modeling in the Wild: Heavy Electric Railroad Modeling

One of my goals for Up Dunes Junction is to become a resource for modelers who like their electrics, and so I am kicking off 'Juice Modeling in the Wild', an occasional series on examples of big traction models on the web.

Heavy electric modeling is fairly rare.  There's a whole model railroading world out there of Union Pacific, narrow gauge, Appalachian coal haulers, circus trains, late model diesels, and lot of other big and small niches that get a lot of play in the big model railroading magazines and web sites, but catenary and pantographs don't get no respect.

The last ten or fifteen years have seen a lot of manufacturer interest in American electrics--Atlas' AEM-7, Bachmann's modern Amtrak and EL-C/E-33 offerings, and a steady stream of 'premium' big electrics from MTH, Broadway, and even Trix. For cryin' out loud, for as many GG-1s have been offered in the past ten years (MTH is doing one this year), one would think there's a closet heavy electric modeler in every county, though there are probably several states that don't have any.

There are a couple of notable online resources for heavy electric model railroads. For a great start, check out  this page at Model Memories.

For the first installment of 'Juice Modeling in the Wild', let's have a look at Rick Abramson's outstanding New Haven layout. Model Railroader magazine featured Rick's layout in its August 2004 issue (not linkable, unfortunately) but luckily there are several ways to get a glimpse of it online (try Model MemoriesMetro North NMRA, and Rapido Trains ) including this preview video for FOS Scale Models' new DVD:

Know of a heavy electric layout or modeler that should be featured here? Let me know!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mocking Up Stuff and Testing Ideas

Over the past few days, I've made some mockups of various scenic ideas for the Dunes Junction layout.
The overpass mockup at the west end of Dunes Junction.

I wasn't happy with my old highway overpass on the west end of the layout, and I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to get catenary under it. So I sketched a new one out on posterboard, glued some blocks along the bottom to make it stand up, and voila--a mocked-up over pass.

The other thing I've been thinking about is catenary.  I've been corresponding with Don Silberbauer at Model Memories, going over ideas about how to make functioning South Shore-style iron lattice and wood pole span bridges.  These span bridges have a distinct look that says 'South Shore'.

But while I wait patiently for Don to work some modern model railroading manufacturing magic for me, I feel like the Joker in Batman as played by Jack Nicholson when he's cutting out pictures and says, "It's so hard to stay inside the lines!"

So I made a mockup of an iron lattice and wood pole catenary span bridge from some Rix Products telephone poles and 1/8" Plastruct lattice I-beams.  I posed the span bridge on the layout with a pair of self-closing tweezers.
Mocked up South Shore catenary bridge, sans paint

I plan to mockup some more features in the next few weeks: the tree line that will go up against the rear back drop, a road that will cross the tracks at the east end of the layout, and a passenger shelter.  With these mockups I'll be able to test out ideas for compostion and placement of scenery and structures.

Look for future postings on my mockup progress.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

American Electrics: The Little Joe, A Direct Current Monster

South Shore Little Joe #803 at the Illinois Railway Museum. Photo by Sean Lamb/Courtesy Wikimedia
South Shore Little Joe #802 (MTH Model) at Dunes Junction
If Pennsy's mighty GG-1 is an artifact of the era of classic art deco design and New Deal mega-projects, the Little Joe is a souvenir from the interlude between WWII and the Cold War.  GE began construction on 20 of these 300-ton direct current monsters as part of WWII lend-lease, while the Soviets were still America's friend.  By the time GE finished construction of these 2-D+D-2s in the late 40s, the Cold War was in full swing and the Soviets had dropped their iron curtain across Europe.  GE never shipped them to Mother Russia; instead, the locomotives were re-purposed for use on US and Brazilian railways.  Milwaukee Road got 12 for its electrified mountain routes in the US northwest, and the South Shore received three.  Brazilian FEPASA took delivery of the remaining five.  All had originally been built to run on Soviet 5' gauge track and were regauged for their new homes (4' 8 1/2" for Milwaukee Road and South Shore, 5' 3" for the FEPASA).  South Shore's Little Joes, or 800s, lasted into the early 80s; by that time they were little more than very large switchers, working local freights in Gary and East Chicago, Indiana.