Saturday, December 31, 2011

Supporting My Platform

No, I'm not running for office.  I know where Libya is, I have no doubts that Canada is indeed a foreign country, nor do I credit the Founding Fathers with ending slavery.  I do, however, have a platform, and after about 4 hours of work, that platform is well supported.

I'm referring, of course, to my depot platform.  The legs are all installed, braced, and stained.  All that remains is the level them up with a little sanding, and get the height adjusted.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Look Down The Line At 2012

I've never been big on New Year's resolutions, setting goals, all that sort of thing, but something is compelling me to set some direction this year.  Maybe it's an attempt to focus my energy; I have quite a few "irons in the fire" right now.

2011 was a big year for me as a modeler:
  • First and foremost was the publication of my first magazine article.  This was a huge deal for me, and a it's a huge relief to be able to check it off the list.  I still prefer the blog as a means of publication, but there's something to be said for seeing your work in a mainstream magazine.
  • The second big achievement was getting a merit award for my produce warehouse, putting me one step closer to the MMR.
  • In August, I received the Meritorious Service Award for my volunteer efforts with the NMRA, an unexpected and very welcome surprise.
  • Last but not least, my Boxcar Full O' Buckets won first place in the Twin Cities Division's November modeling contest.
All in all, not a bad year.  I certainly have some momentum to carry me into 2012.  Looking ahead, there are some specific things that I would like to accomplish in the coming year.  By putting them here for everyone to see, I'm adding some accountability.  Y'all can help prod me along if I'm not getting the work done.
  • I'm very close to completing the Author Achievement for the MMR.  I want to complete this in 2012.
  • I want to publish at least 2 more articles in national magazines
  • I want to get something into Model Railroader, be it an article or a photo
  • This one's a given, but I want to attend the 2012 TLR convention in Sioux Falls
  • I want to complete two major structures for the layout.  One of these will be the depot that I'm currently building, the other is as yet undetermined, but possibly will be the Lakeside Inn.
  • I will be conducting my first clinic, two actually, for the Twin Cities Division, covering some of my scratchbuilding techniques.  If these go well, you may see me presenting at the 2013 regional convention!
That's probably enough for one year.  Gotta leave room for the "real" job in there somewhere, which brings along its own list of things to be done...

Friday, December 23, 2011

New Commenting System

I'm trying out a new commenting system on the blog, a service called Disqus.  You may recognize it from other web sites, as it's becoming a bit of a standard.

Why the change?  Well, for starters, I like the looks of Disqus more than the standard Blogger comments.

Second, you, the reader, no longer need to have a Google profile in order to comment.  You can comment using your Facebook identity, or Twitter, Yahoo, or Google.  I'm hoping this will spur some additional comments from readers.

Let me know what you think, comment on this post, let's see what Disqus can do!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

155 Boards

155 boards to glue down, 155 boards, glue one down and grab the next one, 154 boards to glue down...

I'm talking about floor boards for the depot.  Between errands, grocery shopping, laundry, and some other housekeeping (wife's out of town, remember?), I managed to get the depot floor framed up and all of the floor boards cut and stained.

Here's the frame, 36 scale feet wide by 66 scale feet long.  The depot itself isn't that large, but this will allow for some open dock areas around the structure:

155 floor boards, each 2"x12"x20' (in HO scale, obviously), ready for staining:

155 floor boards, stained in a 50% alcohol, 50% India ink solution:

The tedium of gluing those 155 boards to the frame has begun:

154 boards, glue one down and grab the next one, 153 boards to glue down...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Depot

Just in time for the holiday travel peak, Hill City is getting a depot.  The lot has been graded and leveled, blueprints finalized, and construction of the foundation has begun.  The depot will sit in the front-right corner of the layout, where one of the tracks appears to disappear through the backdrop.

I'm hoping to loosely capture the feel of this scene:

I love the way the tracks curve away out of sight beyond the depot, but I'm not thrilled with the actual depot itself.  I want a depot that will stand out on the layout, a nice 2-story structure.  Turns out, such depots were common in Minnesota, such as this one that existed in Lawler, MN, about 40 miles southeast of Hill City, built by the SOO Line.

Even more fortunate for me, the March issue of NMRA Magazine features plans for just such a depot.

I started construction of the foundation and platform this evening.  By the end of the weekend, I should have a good portion of the flooring installed.  With a 5-day weekend coming up, followed by a 4-day weekend, AND the wife out of town, I should really put a dent in this thing.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Easy-Peasy Paintbrush Cleansy

I thought I would share a tip for cleaning paint brushes.  I can't remember where I picked this idea up from, it's not my idea, but it works great.  Find an empty bottle of ACT mouthwash, the type in the squeeze bottle with the little cup on top:

  • Using pliers, gently pull the center insert out of the bottle.  
  • Fill the bottle with blue windshield washer fluid, the best cleaning fluid you can get for water-based paints.
  • Replace the plastic insert that you removed
  • Label the bottle clearly to indicate that it is NOT FOR DRINKING!!!  You don't want somebody thinking it's blue mouthwash.
You now have a self-contained, spill-proof brush cleaning system.  Just squeeze the bottle to fill the little cup with washer fluid, swish your brush around in the cup, wipe dry with a paper towel, and dump out the dirty fluid.

Here's mine:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Weed And Grass Experiments

I spent the afternoon continuing my landscaping work.  Now that the entire layout is covered in dirt, and the forest is starting to take shape, I turned my attention to groundcover vegetation.  Yep, that's right, I spent the afternoon immersed in weed and grass experiments.  It was three hours of wild and crazy colors, bizarre patterns and textures, and lots of smoke (I built a fire in the fireplace, it was cold downstairs).

The challenge was to find a blend of colors that would look like dormant winter grass - not green, but not quite brown either.  My lawn right now is sort of a greenish-gray color, or it was before it snowed today, now it's white.  After a few tries, I found the combination that I wanted:

What you see here is a mixture of Light Green static grass from Woodland Scenics, ground-up leaves from outside (same coffee-grinder mix that I used for the forest floor), and clippings from a cheap Home Depot paint brush.  I did NOT apply the grass with a static applicator, because I didn't want it to stand up.  All of the tall grasses here are drooped over or laying completely flat, typical for early winter, so that's what I wanted my model grasses to look like.  Looking around outside before the snow started falling, I think I've matched the look pretty well.

A few more shots of what I finished today:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Downloadable Track Plan

Someone requested that I make my original track plan available for download, so here it is.  You'll need the Atlas Right Track software to open it.

Click HERE for the track plan.

Click HERE for the Atlas software.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Yes Deer

A lot of guys have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks wandering around the woods looking for deer.  I don't have to go any further than my basement, three of them have taken up residence in my forest.

I made a hobby shop run today to look for the December issue of Railroad Model Craftsman (the one with my article), and since I was there, picked up some figures, including these deer.

On Wednesday, I promised that by the end of this long weekend, the layout would look a lot different.  I have one more day off, but errands to run, so there won't be much modeling done on that last day.  That said, I did make significant progress over the weekend.  The layout looks different, there's a lot less unfinished styrofoam to look at.

This spot will be the future home of a water tower:

The sawmill and the Woodenware Factory will sit here.  That unfinished oval section will be the hot water pond used to store logs:

All in all, a productive and RELAXING weekend.  I hope to accomplish just as much over my remaining long weekends before the end of the year.

Friday, November 25, 2011


I hope not, because the forest is closing in.  The treeline along the entire far end of the layout has been planted, as well as the area behind the handcar shed.  Sticking all of these trees into the foam base is slow work, but it's nice to step back and see just how much progress has been made.

The second mirror is roughed-in, I need to do a little more work on hiding the edges.

A couple of shots looking across what I guess would be the west end of Hill City.  Johnson's Produce, the handcar shed, the woodshed, and the mockup of the Lakeside Inn are all visible.

Tomorrow - more planting, and maybe some ballasting for a change of pace.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Trip To The Woodshed

One of the structures that I'll be building at some point is the Lakeside Inn, what I imagine was considered a classy joint for Hill City in 1920.  With all those rooms, the inn would be a tough place to keep warm in the winter, and would most likely consume a large amount of firewood.  The proprietor of such a classy place isn't going to want piles and piles of firewood cluttering up the property, spoiling the view for his guests, so he's going to store his firewood somewhere out of sight.  Someplace like this simple woodshed, located at the base of the hill on which the inn resides, safely hidden from the guests by the tree-covered hillside.

If you've been following my progress, you've seen the shed before, it's nothing new.  What is new is the landscaping on the hill.  Over the past couple of nights I finished applying the dirt layer.  Tonight I put down the layer of dead leaves and planted some trees on and around the hillside.  Here you can see the woodshed, the dirt road leading up to the inn, and the cardboard mockup of the inn itself.  The mockup is a bit larger than the actual structure will be.

Here's another look from the far end of the layout.  The unfinished section directly in front of the woodshed is where Johnson's Produce will sit.  At the far left of the photo, you can see the cardboard placeholders for what will become Lake Avenue, a small storefront area that existed in Hill City.

By the end of the weekend, I hope to have all of the trees planted on that far end of the layout, and on the small hill that is partially hiding the handcar shed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For those of us here in the US, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a.k.a. "turkey day".  It also marks the beginning of a 5-day weekend for me.  By this time tomorrow, the house will be filled with the smell of cooked turkey and all the fixin's.  Shortly thereafter, I will be crashed in a recliner, deep in the throes of a turkey-induced coma.

Eventually I will recover, and then it's a marathon of model railroading.  None of that Black Friday nonsense for me, I have all the supplies I need, no reason to leave the house.  If you're into that sort of thing, best of luck to you, but I'll be content here at home, not thinking about work or SQL Server or any of those other grown-up responsibilities.  I'll be thinking about model trains, and by the end of the weekend, the layout should look quite a bit different than it does today.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!  It's already been a memorable one for me!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Look At That, I'm An Author!

I just received confirmation that my first magazine article will be in the December issue of Railroad Model Craftsman!  Woohoo!!!!

Grab a copy and turn to page 49.  I'm going to go camp by the mailbox now, somebody bring me some turkey if I'm not back by Thursday....

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'm Dreaming...

...of brown railroad, just like the proto-typical ones.  Ahem...  Yeah, sorry about that.  The falling snow outside is messing with my head.  We're finally getting some snow here in Minnesota, and I guess I'm a little giddy.

I've been trying to make up my mind as to what to do next on the layout.  There is landscaping to do, more cars to build, more vehicles to build, and more structures to build.  I have several long weekends coming up, including a couple of 5-day breaks, so there's plenty of time, but I haven't decided what the priorities are.  Taking a step back and looking things over, I decided landscaping should be next on the list.  It seems like the logical next step - until it's finished I can't finish ballasting & weathering the track, I can't place structures on the layout, and the overall look of the layout is suffering without landscaping.

With that decision made, I proceeded to create my own brown snowstorm.  If you've read my earlier posts on how I do my landscaping, you know that I use real, natural materials, including real dirt.  I have a container full of dirt that has been baked in the oven and sifted to a fine powder.  After slathering a layer of diluted white matte medium over the target area, I sprinkled a layer of this sifted dirt onto the matte medium.  I followed this with a misting spray of "wet water" (50/50 mix of water and rubbing alcohol), thoroughly saturating the dirt.  This helps the matte medium spread throughout the dirt.  A second final layer of dirt was then sprinkle on top of the saturated material.  Tomorrow, after this has had some time to set, I'll cover selected areas with the ground-up leaf mixture that I use.

Note to others who are planning shelf layouts - contemporary advice is to limit the shelf depth to 24 inches.  I ignored this advice, and today came to regret it.  Three hours hunched over trying to reach the back of a 3-foot deep shelf is too much, my back is killing me!

Enough rambling, let's get to the photos...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Blue Ribbon Buckets

Fun night at the Twin Cities Division meeting last night.  The gears are turning over the possibility of building an N-Trak module.  I picked up some great info on handlaying turnouts.  The highlight of the evening was capturing first place in the modeling contest with my Boxcar Full O' Buckets.  Truly a big surprise for such a simple project!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Needs Horsepower

The title says it all.  This thing needs horsepower.

This is the first non-rail vehicle built for the layout, a horse-drawn delivery wagon.  It's one of the Highway Miniatures kits that I bought for 50 cents a piece.  Even better, with the exception of the wheels, I now know how to scratchbuild more of them.

Here are a couple of staged shots, with the wagon posed next to the boxcar full o' buckets.  Now I just need to find a horse...

Friday, November 4, 2011


Way back, almost a year ago, I mentioned that I was searching for some era-appropriate vehicles for the layout.  At a recent train show/sale, I found a guy selling some really old kits, perfect for my needs.  The best part?  He wanted 50-cents a piece for them!  They're old resin kits, but I have no doubt that I can turn them into some great little vehicles.  Also, it turns out that the company (or at least the brand) still exists, and there are several other vehicles available.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Holy Buckets!

How does one make HO scale wooden pails?  One uses his Dremel, after realizing that the dowel rods that he's using fit perfectly into the chuck on the Dremel.  A little high-speed rotation, some gentle application of a needle file, and presto-chango, the dowel rod transforms into a stack of wooden buckets.  To make it perfectly clear what is loaded in the boxcar, I carved out a few stacks of varying heights, including one single bucket.

Here's the finished car, after being treated with Dull-Kote, drybrushing, and various colors of chalk.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Boxcar Full O' Buckets

In the real Hill City, Minnesota, a key industry was the Woodenware Factory, maker of wooden pails, pickle barrels, cracker barrels, cups for peanut butter, and other wooden containers.

This factory will be represented on my layout, and will be the primary industry.  Accordingly, the load for my loaded boxcar will be wooden pails, headed outbound to interchange with the Great Northern Railroad, bound for points west.

To create the illusion of a car loaded with stack upon stack of buckets, I decided to try using pieces cut from a wooden dowel.  I used scale lumber to build makeshift crates around the stacks, much like they would have done in real life to prevent shifting of the load.  This lumber also helps disguise the fact that these aren't buckets.  Light pencil lines drawn horizontally across the stacks help complete the illusion.

The load is constructed so that I can stage the car as a fully loaded car, or as a car being loaded or unloaded.  As a final touch to the interior, I'm going to place some partial stacks, including a couple of carved buckets, along with a figure, in that vacant space.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cheater, Cheater!

Wow, two weeks have passed already since the "Cabooses" modeling contest!  Between getting the house ready for winter, and being sick for the past week, time has just flown by.  The next modeling contest is two weeks from today, and I've been sitting on my, umm, let's say thumbs.  I need to get moving...

The topic for the next contest is "Boxcars With Loads".  I really want to try to enter something in every contest this year, but there's no way I can scratchbuild a boxcar in two weeks.  So, I'm "cheating".  I'm going to kitbash a ready-to-run car.

The first, and most obvious change that needs to be made is to eliminate the black plastic floor inside the car.  Open up the doors on any of your RTR boxcars, and you'll see exactly what I mean.  After a little prying, the floor popped right out of my boxcar.  I slapped on some tan paint, a wash of India ink & rubbing alcohol, and finished by brushing on some black and brown chalk powder.  The resulting floor almost looks like wood - not exactly, but it's passable.

When viewed through the open boxcar door, it's very convincing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Enter Stage Left

Finished the last of the weathering and detailing on the caboose.  To celebrate, I made a very short little video of it being pulled by #506.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 10, 2011

DM&IR in the Real World

Wife and I drove up to the North Shore today, to catch the last of the fall colors up there.  Since we were in the neighborhood, I stopped in Two Harbors and took a few photos.