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.

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