Thursday, February 28, 2008

Standards and Better Modeling

I'm in the process of modifying a Bowser model as a 117000-series covered hopper. I also have two different Eastern Car Works models of the same prototype. I received one of them today, and it's not quite the right one as it doesn't have the open sides. Looking more carefully at the picture on eBay it would appear that's the case for the second one as well. (Update: I received it today, it's for a completely different prototype).

It's OK in any event, because the details are a little too large compared to the Bowser one. It appears that the ECW kit is an older-style kit. It's still pretty nice, and its construction is quite different. I like to see different options like this, because I know I'll have to scratch-build some cars in the future and it helps to see some variations in the design of the models.

I also received an Eastern Car Works model of a 90-ton depressed flat car (17050-series or 17060-series). It also looks like an older kit in most of the detail, but it is well detailed. I will probably use the frame and some of the other parts, and scratch-build or use replacement parts for the details. It is certainly a closer match than anything else that's currently available.

I am also continuing to work on a B&O M26D boxcar from Speedwitch. The 17200-series flat from Speedwitch is simply waiting for trucks and couplers, painting and decals.

In addition, I've been working on that turnout and track options, and I've been studying pictures of locomotives and comparing them to the models I have.

All of this has worked to help set, as well as increase the level of the standards I'd like for the models on the layout. On the 17200-series flat I have all of the brake details except the release rod, simply because I haven't been able to determine where it should be in the few pictures that I have. Because of the quality of the model, as well as my own experimentation, I've set a high standard to start with.

But, it could be higher. I noticed that on the Protowest model of the 17300-series flat that there are rivets on the caps on the crossbearers. These rivets aren't on the model I have of the earlier series of flats. In fact, I thought these were simply "I" beams, and thus wouldn't have rivets. Because I had used some of the styrene included in the kit for some other details, I was potentially short for the covers. In the instructions, the crossbearer caps were glued across the top of the center beam caps. I cut them to size instead.
So here's the question: who cares if there are rivets on the bottom of a car?
Well, obviously the folks at Protowest. Although at this point I'm probably already being labeled as a "rivet counter," I really just want to make the best model I can, within the limits of my modeling ability and the reasonably avaialble resources.

Actually, I do want to stretch my abilities, and work just beyond my capabilities as much as I can, so I can get better. But I also want to set some standards across the models, so they will blend together as a cohesive whole once they're on the layout.

At this point I've come to the conclusion that I want to model the brake gear on each car. I'm planning on a fairly high layout level, and the brake detail can also be seen to be present in pictures. Because of my desire for consistency, I want these models to be up to the same standards as models I build a few years from now.

However, my skills at this point aren't quite at the level I'd like. So instead, I'm working my way through the process rather slowly at times. The B&) M26D is a good case in point. I started it about a year ago. After completing a good portion of the underframe (but not the brake gear) I found that it wasn't going as smoothly as I'd hoped. For one thing, I didn't read the directions closely enough. But more importantly, I hadn't learned enough about what I was modeling, nor how to model it.

While that sat waiting, I worked on several other kits, all F&C kits. One is the New Haven milk car kit, which I am pretty close to completing. The reason it hasn't been finished is partially due to learning that it would have been long gone by my era. So it's waiting for trucks and couplers, as well as a final painting and decals. The other two are both NHRHTA Kit #1. However, these kits were manufactured in different runs, and are very different kits. One has a cast roof that is simply applied to the model. The other has a roof that's cast in one piece. You are supposed to bend (break) it in half, and form it over the model using another casting that helps set the correct angles. While both kits are a yellowish resin that F&C used at the time (their resin is now white), the earlier of the two was a much stiffer, almost brittle resin. The flash was much thicker and required a lot of sanding to clear up, and the sides are very, very warped. If this was what all craftsman kits were like, I might have second thoughts about my plans.

I'm not sure if I'll "finish" any of these cars. Along with a small collection of Accurail cars, etc. However, they have served their immediate purpose, which is to provide some much needed practice and experimentation. It was enough so that when I got around to the 17200-series kit that I was able to complete it fairly quickly, and without too much difficulty. The M26D is also closer to completion, now awaiting the purchase of a few parts recommended to make it a more accurate model.

Which brings me back to my original thought: my modeling standards. It's easy enough to list what I think I want:

-Separately applied grabirons and ladders
-Metal Sill Steps and other fragile parts where possible
-Accurate doors, roofs, and ends
-"Complete" brake gear, including piping to all 5 junctions on the AB control valve
-Sergent Couplers
-Proto:87 Wheelsets
-Date specific painst schemes and decals

The list will continue, but the point is that these are my standards. They're pretty high standards to meet, especially when considering a 500-piece collection of rolling stock. The cost of each piece increases, in part because it moves me toward resin kits as the primary type of rolling stock, as well as additional cost for extra or replacement details, and small run parts like the couplers and wheelsets.
But in the long run it may save me time, money and aggravation. My theory is that if I set the standards high now, I won't have to go back and "correct" earlier models and bring them up to standard. In some cases I may skip certain details (such as super-detailing a locomotive) when I can put the money toward something else. But overall it will be less expensive to make sure each item is up to standard before putting it on the layout.

It is possible that a few years down the road I could decide that this is crazy and lower some of my standards. THe only ones that would have an appreciable effect financially is deciding to switch from Sergent couplers, or Proto:87 wheelsets. If I decide to do less brake detail it just means that the older models will have more detailed underframes.

But I don't think that's likely. Knowing my own tendencies, I will only want to improve the level of detail above even these standards. I also feel that the more cars I assemble, the more proficient I will get, and it will go faster and with fewer mistakes.

Ted Culotta in a clinic last year said that it's important to not to overthink things and not get anything accomplished as a result. I agree, it's important to keep working because after all, it's just a hobby. If I chop up a locomotive and it doesn't come out the way I'd have hoped, then I can either try to fix it, or replace it. Let's face it, I've wasted money on far less. If I was collecting $1,500 brass locomotives it might be another story...

So far I've sacrificed two layouts, a handful of shake-the-box kits, a couple of resin kits, and some of my time. So far I have a little to show for my efforts. I'm betting that as my skills improve, there will be more on the shelf (or layout) to show for my efforts than what I have so far.
So don't be afraid to set your standards high. The key is to keep working towards them. I have a small shelf's worth of partially completed models. But I also have what I feel is one really good model, with another two well on their way. And I feel much more confident that the next kits I work on will be the same.

If I'd originally decided that building a large roster quickly with shake-the-box kits was the best approach, then I'd not only be re-purchasing a bunch of parts (couplers and wheelsets for one, of which I did buy a few McHenry and Intermountain already), but I'd also have a lot more models that would be pushed off of the layout as "not good enough anymore." Bill Schneider has reached a point where he removes one model from the railroad each time he adds one. But he's at that 500+ car roster stage where it's more a necessity due to space constraints. When I get to that point I want to have a difficult time deciding which model to remove.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Well, I've been sketching out some rough ideas for the new layout, and I think I know which version I plan on building. If I stick with the "simple" around-the-room helix, with the east and west Highland Line running in opposite directions, when they circle around to the staging area I can simple run the mainline down the middle of the staging area, creating the contiuous loop for running. On one side of the main will be the staging/storage for Hartford, and Waterbury on the other. My current benchwork is about 3" thick, and I'll add another inch or so for lighting the staging area. At a steady 2% grade I'll have about 10" minimum additional clearance, which I think will work well for staging. I will hide the staging from the operating location in the center of the room with doors, but it will be open on the staging side for easy access.

While the "double" helix created will be a little more difficult to build, it shouldn't be too bad. I plan on using the masonite spline method inspired by Joe Fugate and the method I used for the current layout. All of the flat sections (including the Stanley Works section which will be on a 1% grade) will use a simple table-top construction. I may just use OSB for the table-top, or I may decide to go with the foam.
All of the "tunnels" will be hidden behind buildings, and the staging will be completely hidden from the operators. I may or may not hide the Berlin Line as it ascends behind the eastbound Highland Line into staging.

The swing-open section will comprise track on several different levels, and will be 4 tracks wide. I will stagger the rails and use guardrails to help prevent derailments, and I'll use electrical contacts to create dead sections of track when the door is not shut properly. It will essentially be a half-height door with sections of track attached to the back of it.

I will have to work out the staging layout for maximum storage. At the end of each storage section I will install an inexpensive, manual Atlas turntable to allow turning of locomotives and cars as well as an escape track. I can create gantlet tracks to access the turntable to allow as many as possible. This will turn the stub-ended staging into a virtual double-ended staging. The alternative would be a transfer table.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More Modeling

Well, it appears that I'll be doing a bit more than I anticipated...

First, since I needed a couple of small supplies, I decided to check out another hobby store I "found." Pretty much every hobby store is about 45 minutes or more from me at this point, so I thought it would be nice to check out something new. As it turns out, this one appeared to be in somebody's house, and when we tried to call there was no answer. So, no hobby store. But we were close to the MA border by that point, and it would have been more than an hour to get down to Wolcott and the Hobby Gallery (the only hobby store "nearby" that has detail parts in stock).

So we decided try Tucker's Hobbies in Warren, MA. Everybody kept telling me I had to go check it out. Although it wasn't quite what I expected, they had a great supply of detail parts in stock. So it was a trip worth making, although I'll have to plan ahead, and perhaps call in an order before I head up that way again, since it's over an hour. I always seem to forget to order something, and it appears they are the most likely to have what I need in stock.

I also picked up a Bowser covered hopper. So I'm making some modifications to bring it up to the approriate level of detail. I've decided I much prefer to work on a craftsman-style kit than to scrape parts off of an existing model. There is an Intermountain model in pre-production right now that looks great, although I'll need to make a few modifications to that as well, it appears.

I also have one of the Eastern Car Works depressed center flat cars on the way. This will be a good starting point for either a 17050- or 17060-series flat. It's a model of a 36'-long car, and the prototypes are 36'8" and 37'6" respectively.

I still plan on ordering a model for a 17300-series flat as well, either the Sunshine or Protowest one. So I'll be working on completing some of the less common cars on the roster.

I also picked up one of the Athearn RS-3 locomotives. It's a nice model, although there are a number of modifications to make. One area that needs work is the plow, and I think the Atlas one is a bit more accurate in this regard. I'm working on a closer study of both to identify the differences between them, as well as the accuracy. I don't have an Atlas one yet, but I may pick one up if I can't discern what I need in the pictures. Note that the Atlas one is not currently available in a New Haven paint scheme, and has not been released in the delivery scheme at all.

LayoutI'm working on a new plan for the layout, again. Our planned move may not happen as soon as we thought, due to a few complications, so I'm going to start working on a new layout here. We've also decided to stop pretending that we're going to use the basement for other uses, so I'll have a full 10' x 20' area to work with, plus another small area if need be.
While I've still considered a multi-level layout, I want to avoid a crawl-under design. I'll need to provide some sort of a lift-out or door to access the center of the room, since that is the operating section of the layout. So the current plan is to model the station/arcade area, and the Highland Line west through Stanley Works. All three of the lines (Highland east & west, and the Berlin line) will go to semi-hidden staging. The Berlin line will be at the same level as the main layout, hidden in the Stanley Works buildings. There will also be a semi hiddne track that completes a loop for continuous running. The remaining staging will be beneath the layout, but doesn't have to be low enough for scenicking. The lower level staging will also complete a loop for continuous running.

The Berlin Line will complete a continous running line around the top level only. The Hartford/Waterbury line will complete a longer run for continuous running utilizing the second level, so the trains will be passing a different intervals. I can also allow slow trains to run through this loop while running alone, while doing the local switching.

I'll still need to do a 2-level entrance of some sort, but the staging doesn't have to be at as low a level, nor will it have as many tracks crossing the opening. How I get the trains to the lower level is the question right now. I'd like to stick with a maximum of about a 2% grade. I would prefer to avoid a helix, partially due to the reduced radius and increased grade as a result. But the bigger factor is that the lines that enter the helix are both double-tracked main, which complicates things more.

So my next option is an around-the-room helix.

Version one of the around-the-room helix gives me the most room to work with for the lower level staging in the location I want. The problem is that the two mainlines are decending in the opposite directions, and each will need to circle the entire room once. This again makes things a little more complicated.
Version two is a turnback on one of the mainlines, so both tracks can descend side-by-side. In addition, I could reduce the trackage to a single double-tracked main, instead of having it 4 tracks wide. The only real problem with this design is that the turnback is over the location where I want the staging, reducing access slightly, or the length of the tracks. In addition, I have to add a second loop under the turnback to maintain continuous running. The turnback and loop would both extend outside of the layout room itself, so it will not interfere with the rest of the layout or operation.

The only major difference that this layout will have from my intended layout is that it will not feature the Berlin Line at all. All traffic to the Berlin Line will be handled off-layout by the dispatcher (usually me), and the Hartford/Waterbury staging will be immediately below that so all off-line activity will happen in one place (which is outside the main operating section of the layout, and hidden from their view).

I expect that I will still have at least 3 jobs plus the dispatcher, that could potentially support 3 two-person teams:
The yard switcher. One of the local 44-tonners that handles the switching on the Highland Line.

HDX-5. This is the only local freight, and will also switch the same industries as the yard switcher.

Through trains. This includes passenger and freight. All of the Hartford-based or bound trains will dropp off and pick up cars here.

The dispatcher will move cars "dropped" at the Whiting Street Yard by the New Haven trains to the Commercial Street Yard. He will also pick up cars dropped there by trains bound for Berlin Line industries. He is also responsible for all trains entering or leaving staging, and will switch locomotives and hacks to their new trains to ready them to enter the layout.

The center aisle will be somewhere between 30" and 60" wide, depending on how I decide to model the PF Corbin factory on Myrtle Street.

Sketches and details to follow, and I hope to start building the benchwork relatively soon (and reuse as much of the existing benchwork as possible). The method of constructing the benchwork is still undecided as well, although I'm leaning towards re-using as much of the OSB that I used for the last layout, along with foam and homasote or cork roadbed.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Phases of a Model Railroad: Roster

Although this is more or less theory at this point, looking ahead I can see how my railroad will be completed in some distinct phases. In fact, there are different phases for different potions of the layout, but for this posting I will be focusing on the roster.

Planning Phase
I'm primarily working within this phase right now. A big portion of this is research of both the prototypes and models. In the process of collecting and organizing the prototype info, I started making a binder of material along with entering a lot of data into the computer to make the key information easier to find. This website is an extension of that, because I figured I wouldn't be the only one that would find this information useful, and it allows me to access it anyplace I can get to the internet. A side benefit for me is that others have the opporutnity to "proof" my data when they visit the site. I've already had some feedback and corrections, and I hope that process continues.

Collecting modeling info is a combination of a few areas. One is identifying and acquiring modeling info about the New Haven Railroad in the hobby press. A side benefit of this is that I also acquire some info on other prototypes as well. The next area is identifying what models are/were available for the New Haven. This can be a little more complicated, but not nearly as complicated as the next step: identifying which models are the most accurate, and/or are the easiest to "correct." The modeling articles are helpful in much of this regard, but online forums and other modelers are invaluable. Again, in the process I end up with information about other roads.

Home Road Phase
I'm sure most modelers are like me, and they are hunting for as many models of their home road as possible. I'm actually using focused prototype modeling as a method to manage my budget as well. There aren't all that many models of New Haven prototypes available. There are even fewer that are accurate, and fewer still that fall within my era. Manufacturers (and probably modelers as well) seem to focus heavily on the era just after mine: the McGinnis era. The cars are more colorful, and the big NH is instantly recognizable. But I'm not a big fan of the paint schemes myself.

In any event, it means that I have a relatively short shopping list, and I'll usually only find a couple of things (if any) at a store or a show. Most of them I have to order, and these keeps expensive impulse purchases at a minimum.

Once I identify what's available, I can prioritize. Price plays a part here, but it's usually dictated more by scarcity. I start with the hard-to-find things, because the longer you wait, the harder they are to find. The next priority is the limited releases that are available now, but won't be for long. New Haven lettered locomotives seem to be the biggest culprit here, they tend to last less than a month on the shelves (at least in CT).
I can easily see the next couple of years focused almost exclusively on filling out my New Haven roster.

Foreign Road Phase
Three major things will influence my purchase of foreign equipment. The first is the scarcity issue. This applies primarily to models I'll be making based on a magazine article. If the model is a limited release I may pick it up so I'll have it when I need it. These will probably sit on the shelf while I'm building New Haven models, though.

The second factor that will play a part is the completion of a signicficant amount of the layout. I'm not talking about scenery and structures. This is purely related to trackwork. When there's enough trackwork in place to start some early operating sessions, I'll need some cars. It might be OK for a few sessions to have all New Haven models, but I think that I'll want to see some variety pretty quickly. In fact, this will probably be important once there's a significant amount of trackwork to have a good amount of cars sitting on the layout.

The final factor, and the one that really signals this phase, is the near completion of the New Haven roster. Once the layout reaches a certain point, almost all of the new additions to the roster will be foreign roads. This is due to several reasons. This will happen from time-to-time when there aren't any specific models on the market. But the roster itself is based on the real thing and the size of the layout. So I know exactly what I want for the roster, and once the New Haven portion is complete it's not likely to change much.

Final Thoughts
These phases aren't set in stone, of course. They will always overlap to some degree. But the major factor for me is that my focus will shift. I might pick up a nice model of a foreign road because of a particular opportunity, but I won't be searching out those opportunities. Right now I'm looking for New Haven stuff, and just New Haven stuff. I already know the next 2-3 cars I'll pick up, and that will probably complete my flat car roster. This is simply because the models are available, and I don't need very many.

How quickly I build the roster also depends on what prototype info I find. If I have a choice between an Employee Timetable or a locomotive, I'll always go for the timetable because they just don't show up very often. Once the actual construction on the layout begins, then funds and time will be focused on that aspect. This, in fact, forms another series of phases: modeling. My situation would also be similar to somebody living in an apartment or going to college. No layout (at least not at home) so plenty of opportunity to plan and build a roster. Once the layout gets under way the roster probably won't grow much until enough of the layout is ready for some trains. Then roster building gets to fight it out with scenery and structure building for a few years. Once that's largely completed it's back to roster building.

This is all assuming that you don't move and have to start with the planning stages again...

Anyway, my current goal is to work on the core of the New Haven roster for the next 6-12 months. I may have less time depending on when we move. But I'll still have a window of time after the move to build some models while I work out the final plans for the layout befure I start building.

This weekend I'll be adding a new locomotive (or two) to the roster. They won't be super-detailed yet, and they won't even be the correct road number. But although they were released a couple of months ago, they are already getting harder to find. By the end of the month I'm hoping to have 2-3 more flat cars to build, and then I'll be looking to get started on the PS-1 boxcars. With a tax return, bonus, and a tax rebate all due in a couple of months I'm hoping to be able to build all 20 at once. With those complete I'll have about 15% of my freight roster done.

We'll see.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Proto:87 Revisited

Well, I am well on my way of completing my first official addition to my roster: A 17200-series Flat Car. Pictures and thoughts will be posted in the relatively near future.

I have also completed my first semi-handlaid turnout. I say semi-handlaid because I'm using the Central Valley turnout kits, and it doesn't require quite the amount of work as a completely handlaid turnout. In any event, I've come up with a way to model the throwbars to my satisfaction:


This is a rough prototype, but the concept works. It has been noted (by Andy Reichert) that the approach of soldering pc-board ties as a throwbar is not as reliable as you might think, so testing continues.

So between the better looking track, and the fact that I need to order some trucks and wheelsets for my new flat car, my thought process is once again focused on proto:87. In the last few days I have found and joined two Yahoo groups, handlaidtrack and proto:87. Although I may be stating the obvious, I tend to do a lot of research and even experimentation when making decisions. I don't take this one too lightly, because there is both a time and a money component involved. I also have to worry about converting my locomotives (I have around 10 right now) as well.

But since I don't have an operating layout, and I've loaned out my DCC system for testing and evaluating to a friend, I have some time to make those conversions. I only have 3 locomotives equipped for DCC right now anyway, and all three will probably not be in my final roster because I've altered my plans, and settled on different standard models.

So, later this week I will most likely place my first order for proto:87 wheelsets, along with the trucks and couplers I'll need to complete this model. The very fact that I keep coming back to this question is a pretty good indication that it's the direction I want to take. All my other decisions: handlaid track, Sergent couplers, prototype modeling with a high degree of fidelity, are not only compatible, but heading down the same tracks, pun intended.

I will post an update with what I think after I've received the wheelsets and other materials and complete the car. I also plan on building a second (code 70) turnout with the same process, but to proto:87 standards to see how much additional fiddling that entails. Hopefully I'll have more to report within the month...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Freight Rosters

I've been adding a lot of info to the freight rosters. There's still a bit to go from what info I already have, but there is a lot of info I don't have. In particular, I'd like to include the info from all of the ORER's from 1949-1954, I currently have one, with some leads on a few more. These are particularly valuable for identifying which flat cars are equipped for piggy-back service, and which gondolas have had their drop bottom removed.

In addition, I'm working on completing my first prototypically accurate model, of the 17000-series flat car. I'll be posting some pictures in the near future. I've also worked out how I will be building my turnouts, including near-scale throw rods. This is a project I've been working on for about a year. I finally found a surprisingly simple solution and assembled a sample turnout that I think looks great. More on this to come as well.

Lastly, I've been visiting a few other layouts to run some trains. I'm going to check with the other guys, but I'd like to start posting some info about those sessions on the site, because I find them very helpful, informative, and fun.