Friday, 10 May 2019

May 10 2019 - Sesquicentennial of the Transcontinental Railroad's Golden Spike

What was it the Engines said,
Pilots touching,--head to head
Facing on the single track,
Half a world behind each back?

From Opening of the Pacific Railroad by Francis Bret Harte

Today marks 150 years since the "wedding of the rails" when the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad were officially joined at Promontory Summit in Utah. At exactly 12:47 pm, the last iron spike was driven, finally completing the line. It was an event that marked a new era in long-distance overland travel. It is also the event that helped draw me to model early American railroads.

As a kid, I had a recording of Ludovic Kennedy's documentary Coast to Coast, which featured a short re-enactment sequence with the two replica locomotives at Promontory Summit. Apart from Disney's the Great Locomotive Chase, this was the only footage I had of trains from this era, so I watched and rewatched this sequence many times over. Even though it's old, I still get a kick from watching this again.

The words inscribed on the fourth side of the spike, May God continue the unity of our Country, as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world, were fitting for the occasion. The concept of the overland railroad had been debated by congress and explored for many years. But, when Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862, America was embroiled in the Civil War. Establishing a reliable overland link was seen as an important move to strengthen the Union's ties with the western states, particularly California, which was struggling with the idea of secession.

If you are keen to find out a bit more about the Golden Spike and the famous locomotives, I recommend you watch the following videos from ToyManTelevision's channel on YouTube. I have also included a link to the original documentary about how they built the replica locomotives that reside at Promontory today. Enjoy them if you watch.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Tender wrappers and headlights

When I was installing the Tsunami 2 sound decoders, I made some adjustments to Jupiter and Firefly.

Jupiter was the only engine to keep her factory paint job (except for her boiler jacket). The artwork on her tender was not very detailed and I decided to replace it with artwork based on John Ott's locomotive fine art prints. I arranged the artwork in a 'tender wrapper'.  A single long piece of paper that would wrap around the Jupiter's tender and be trimmed to fit.

I tried printing the artwork on decal paper, following the same techniques I've used on all my previous tender artwork. However, I was not happy with the colour matching and ended up printing the wrapper onto plain copier paper. As this was all one piece and it followed the outline of the tender it fitted in inconspicuously.

Below are before and after photos of the Jupiter. There is alot more detail in the new artwork, the filigree is more intricate and the guilt shines brighter.

Research conducted by John and other locomotive historians seems to indicate the Jupiter had either a plain varnished wood cab or the cab was painted to represent varnished wood, with artificial wood grain painted on, which was apparently, a fashion trend at the time. The pilot and sand domes were possibly also red. At some stage it is likely I change these details on my model but for now I'm enjoying the new tender artwork.
Jupiter with her original tender artwork as delivered from the manufacturer (Though, the boiler is painted in this photo.)

Jupiter wearing her new tender wrapper, based on John Ott's artwork.

Firefly was my first kitbashed locomotive. It was also the first I repainted and made custom decals for and it shows a bit in the final finish. When I did the original kitbash I did not add a lighted headlight. Instead I painted the inside of the light silver to represent the reflector. The headlight also did not have a lens.

The headlights used in 1895 are oil lamps, which would burn whale oil or something similar. This was expensive and therefore railroads would only light the headlights for night running. Even though my trains don't run at night, I found I enjoy running with lights on, as I feel it adds some life to the locomotive. I justify their use due to the many tunnels on my layout. 

When I added the Tsunami 2 to Firefly, I decided to finish the job properly and add an LED to the headlight. I also made a lens for the housing using acetate. 

I liked the original sunflower style stack that came with the original IHC locomotive shell, but I always felt it was a bit thick looking. In any case it had to be removed to access the headlight and when I reassembled the locomotive I tried out a Congdon and diamond stack for looks. In the end I settled on the diamond stack. 

Firefly with her original sunflower stack and dummy headlight.

Test fitting the Congdon stack. 

Firefly fitted with her functioning headlight and diamond stack.

When I get around to it, I'll find a good plastic friendly paint stripper and remove the paintwork on Firefly's cab and tender and start again. I'll definitely redo the tender artwork and use a similar method to what I used for the Jupiter.

I'm interested to hear which stack you prefer on the Firefly, the Sunflower, Congdon or Diamond? If you can suggest any good plastic friendly paint strippers I'd love to know.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Running the kitbashed 2-6-0

In my earlier post about my kitbashed 2-6-0 I promised I'd 'do a video of it someday'. I've finally got around to making one and posting it to my YouTube channel. You can watch it below.

I've experimented using a voiceover to explain some aspects of the project, which is a departure from my previous subtitle only videos.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Installing Maastrecht's Mill and some roads.

The problem with Maastrecht's Mill is that there was not a space for it on the layout. Logically, it would fit best near water. The only place with running water on the layout is in the Canyon, but the scenery is arider. Not the place you expect to find a flour mill.

The most logical spot was the corner of the layout near Cass and the Sawmill. There was a little wooded hill that rises into the backdrop. Trees could be cut down and space made for the mill. But there was no water. So this site was chosen. After a little thought, I was able to create a little creek in front of the mill for the water from the wheel to drain into to make the mill a better fit.

Unfortunately, this location did not allow for the mill to be serviced by the railroad like Ben King's original model was. However, I made a little road from the mill to the town of Cass and placed a wagon outside the mill to be loaded.

The chosen corner. The little cabin will have to go...
The hillside has been cleared and part of the hillside has been excavated. A wagon road has also been carved toward the left.
The overall completed scene.

Another wagon road was created further along coming out of the forest. This road helped connect the little town of Cass with the sawmill, which is a stone's throw away. Truth be told, I don't have many grade crossings (railway crossings) on the layout. Creating this little road gives me a reason to blow the whistle a bit more.

To help with the illusion that the railroad is the connector of towns and people, the roads don't link to the other towns on the layout.

The scenery went faster than I expected and was mostly completed over two work sessions. The little hillside all along the backdrop was re-grassed using static grass, the trees were replanted. I weeded out the poorly built trees as I didn't need as many now the Mill was taking up some ground.

It has been summer here in New Zealand and I've enjoyed the wildflowers on our families travels. I decided to model some wildflowers in this scene using the Woodland Scenics product. I've mainly used red, orange and yellow flowers in the long grass to bring a little colour.

The road to Maastrecht's Mill. The creekbed is visible to the right of the tracks. The photo was taken before the resin water was poured.
Overall I'm pleased with how the model fits into the scene. All that is left to do now is to connect up the water wheel to the power.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

The dangers of getting new locomotives...

The problem with getting new stuff is your old stuff starts to feel old. Favourite items, having been usurped by a newer item, are used less and less. This is exactly where I found myself after I finished kitbashing my 2-6-0. Very quickly it became my go-to locomotive, which is understandable for a time, after all, it was new; new stuff tends to have a novelty value. However, it slowly dawned on me that I was enjoying this new locomotive because of the Tsunami 2 decoder and the Current Keeper.

My locomotives were either sound value models, with a very cut down version of a Tsunami decoder, or had a first generation Soundtraxx sound decoder that was shipped with the Bachmann 4-6-0 and 4-4-0 Spectrum sound onboard models; a very good decoder, but with some limits.

Thoroughfare Gap Railroad's full fleet. Because its a rare occasion for all the locomotives to be in one location, the company photographer scaled the imposing cliffs outside of Erewhon to take this elevated shot.
Shortly before Christmas, I made the fateful decision to commit to upgrading the remaining five locomotives in my fleet to Tsunami 2 decoders. I knew I would get Current Keepers in the two Bachmann Spectrum locomotives. But I was resigned to continuing to put up with occasional stalls on dirty track and insulated frogs for the two new Bachmann 4-4-0's and the kitbashed 2-8-0. Their small tender sizes probably precluding the installation of a Current Keeper.

I thought I'd knock off the two Spectrum's first. While I was fitting up the first Spectrum, I decided to see if I could fit a current keeper in the new tooling 4-4-0. I was pleasantly surprised that it was a very close thing! I ground out some of the tender shell to create some more clearance using a motor tool, and presto, the current keeper could fit!

Now the cost of my project had just escalated by three current keepers, for I knew I could squeeze them into the other two small locomotives. But the final result was going to be worth it.

I've now finished the upgrades and the whole fleet is using Tsunami 2's with Current Keepers. I spend less time cleaning tracks, though I know it still needs a good clean from time to time. I certainly am not tapping stalled locomotives in frustration anymore.

The lift in enjoyment from the smooth and easy running the Current Keepers provide is a real game changer. Years ago, MRC ran an advertisement encouraging modelers to consider buying one of their power packs instead of a new locomotive to increase enjoyment of the hobby. I feel like Soundtraxx could run the same advert with their Current Keeper. Having a locomotive with a Current Keeper is like having a new locomotive!

So in summary, you can argue the true cost of the 2-6-0 mogul project was the mogul locomotive PLUS six Tsunami 2's and six Current Keepers! Be careful when you embark on new projects, you never know what else you may end up purchasing as a result. Though in this case, I have no regrets.

I'll post another day about how I've configured my Tsunami 2's and some of the great features that drew me to this decoder. I'll also make a post about the Current Keeper, its pros and cons and the drawbacks.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Animating Maastrecht's Mill

Ever since I was eight years old I've admired the work of Ben King who spent many years building his small Timber City and North Western  Railroad. Ben's gift was detailing and scratchbuilding, the few structures on his layout were beautifully conceived and constructed. He wrote several articles for Model Railroader over the years, including several documenting the building of these structures. The articles included his plans.

The May 1994 issue of Model Railroad had an article by Ben King on building Weimer's grist mill. I was taken with this model and always wanted to have a crack at building it one day. Alas, I've not had the patience to give it whirl.

A while back I came across the MakeCNC website which was selling plans for CNC routers. They had a plan for Heim's Mill. I pulled out the article from 1994, sure enough, the two structures were very close and the CNC plans clearly used Ben King's plans as the base for their model.

I found a CNC kit maker in New Zealand who was producing kits using these plans and purchased a kit for NZ$20. The kit used 1mm plywood, so some of the details are a bit thick. But I've found they work nicely as when painted and weathered and are not placed to close to the layout edge.

I made the kit up about a year ago but I could not decide on a location for it on the layout. It was clear that if it was going to go on the layout, I was going to have to do some scenery surgery. I'll post on the integration with the layout another day. However, I knew that if I was going to put the mill on the layout, I had to animate the water wheel.

Water wheels turn slowly, so I needed a motor with a gearbox to provide that nice slow turning motion. I turned to AliExpress and found this very reasonably priced motor with a built-in gearbox.  It turned out to be a great choice.
The small motor and gearbox from AliExpress

After drilling a hole for the wheel shaft I made a mount for the motor and simply glued it into place inside the mill. The video shows a test of the wheel and motor inside the model.

Ben King called his structure Wiemer's Mill, but what to call to mine? I've settled Maastrecht's Mill. Maastrecht was my Mother's maiden name, so its named after my Nana and Oupa. To my knowledge, we did not have any millers in the family but never mind. I have a tradition of naming places and businesses on the layout after family and friends. Moreover, my Nana Maastrecht was the one who introduced me to trains, building my first layout for me when I was three years old. Given that, I think it's fitting that a structure I've admired for so long is named after her. Anyway, I think the name has a nice ring to it.

The next step is to install the mill on the layout. I'm going to have to make space...

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Wagon's ho!

Several years ago, I acquired a 1:72 (OO) scale kit by Imex containing two covered wagons. Most of the parts were close enough in proportions to 1:87 (HO) scale. Unfortunately, the wheels of the wagon were too large and I wasn't taken with the animals or the people. So the kit was put in a drawer for another day.

Recently,  my Father ordered me a set of seated wagon figures from Knuckleduster miniatures, which he painted beautifully for me. Knuckleduster's HO figures really have an unprecedented level of detail and I'm really enjoying adding their line to my layout.

When Dad gave me the seated wagon figures, I knew I needed to find a solution for that wagon kit.

The front wheels from the kit were the right size for rear wheels but that still left front wheels and horses to find. Interestingly, in my searching, I found that no one seems to make miniatures of harnessed horses.

Häkan Nilson, another period modeller (Shapeways shop eight wheeler models), has designed a number of 3d printed components and made them available for purchase on Shapeways. I ordered his harnessed horses and found a selection of wagon wheels from another Shapeways shop.

I found Shapeways to be quite expensive by the time you ship the items to New Zealand. However, I could not find many alternatives.

My Dad painted the horses for me over Christmas. He also added manes to the horses using modelling putty. I assembled and painted the wagon kits when we got back from our holiday.

These wagons do look larger than the other wagons on the layout, which are made by Musket Miniatures. But I believe those models to be slightly on the small side.

Overall, I'm pleased with the results and will look to place them closer to the front of the layout so the viewer can see the detail in the figures. By placing the smaller Musket Miniature wagons further back in the scene I may be able to achieve a bit of 'forced perspective' to add some perceived depth to the scene.