Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mixed Results Inside and Out

Continuing with the paper construction technique, I started installing the clapboard siding on the exterior of the depot.  Just as I did with the handcar shed, I'm using scale 6" strips of a heavy paper for the siding boards.  However, it's not turning out quite the same.  For the handcar shed, I wanted the siding to look worn and "droopy", as if the shed had seen several years of hard use and neglect.  That's not the look that I want for the depot, but that's what I'm ending up with.  The paper tends to curl when cut, making it difficult to get nice, tidy straight boards.

I don't think I'm going to proceed with the paper strips for this structure.  I just place a bulk order for some scale 1" lumber in various widths - I'll try using that instead.  The siding will have to wait until that order arrives.

On a positive note - I installed part of the interior of the freight section of the depot.  Looks great!  You can see a portion of it through the open door in the photo above.  Here's another look from the other end.

It too is paper, printed on my own printer, using a texture pattern found at  I think this will be quite convincing when viewed through an open door, with some dim interior lighting.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Modern Day Comforts in Hill City

During the train ride last weekend, I was making mental notes about various trackside details that I could add to my layout.  Of particular interest along the stretch of tracks that we traveled were some old telegraph poles.  A discussion broke out about whether Hill City in 1920 would have had telegraph or telephone service.  To be honest, up to this point, I haven't even looked into the existence of electricity at that time, let alone telephones.

I've learned a couple of interesting things today.  First, Hill City did indeed have electricity in 1920, and it was, in fact, provided by the Woodenware Factory.  According to this excerpt from, electricity came to Hill City in April of 1916:

The Woodenware Factory was interested in putting in a power plant, and as such, the village was contacted as to whether they might be interested in purchasing power for the businesses and homes there. This was looked on favorably by the townsfolks and so a local power distribution company was set up. "A plan for the formation of a stock company for the purpose of furnishing electric light and power to Hill City people is now underway and it looks as though it would go through. The thing is being undertaken by local men who not only are looking for an investment that will pay them but are also interested in the development of the community...There is little doubt that the majority of our citizens favor the installation of electric lights and will become patrons of the company....The plan is to arrange with the National Woodenware Co. for the delivery of electric current at a switchboard and this in turn will be distributed to patrons as cheaply as possible. The larger the amount of business the cheaper this can be done. Capital with which to finance the project will be ready as soon as it is apparent that our people want the lights. It is estimated that a house can be lighted by electricity for very little above the cost of oil lamps and at the same time we have the best kind of light for all purposes, that is clean, always ready for use and positively safe from explosion." (Hill City News ~ October 21, 1915) By April of 1916, the Hill City Utilities Company was formed. (Hill City News ~ April 20, 1916) 

Looks like I get to add lighting to my structures!

Even more interesting is what I discovered about telephones.  In the Fall 2011 issue of Ore Extra, there is an article (first of two parts) on the Missabe Telephone and Telegraph Department.  Yep, that's right, the Missabe had a telephone service, which it offered to residents in the communities that the railroad served.  The article includes a photo of the front cover of a phone book from 1912, with operating exchanges in several northern Minnesota communities.

So now I have two reasons to install poles on the layout - electricity and telephones.  Fascinating stuff!

Depot 2.0 Takes Shape

If you read yesterday's post, you know that I started over on the depot.  You also know that I'm trying a new construction technique, using matte board instead of scale lumber to frame the walls.  I have to say, I'm impressed so far.  In 24 hours, I've accomplished more with the matte board than I did in more than a week using the scale lumber.

A look at how this might look when placed on the layout...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Depot Do-Over

Remember the Atari 2600 video game console, and that nifty reset switch?  If a game didn't go the way you wanted it to, you simply hit that reset switch and started over.  If only somebody would invent a reset switch for model building.  I could sure use it right now.

Two weeks ago, during the TCD layout tour, I noticed that the walls on my depot had bowed considerably.  We had all of the doors and windows in the house open, and it was a bit humid that day, so I blamed that for the warpage.  I figure a few days with the A/C running, things would dry out and return to normal.  No such luck.  This is what the depot looks like right now:

She has curves in all the wrong places.  I'm not sure what, if anything, can be done to fix this, so I'm starting over.  Dave Jasper, one of the visitors to the layout, asked a very pointed question.  "Why are you building it this way, if the studs won't be visible anyway?"  Good question, and the only answer I had was "Just because". I don't have a good reason, other than it seemed like a good idea at the time.  I sit here now, though, looking at several hours of effort wasted.

I've followed the work of Troels Kirk for a long time, and I find it fascinating what he can do with black matte board and paper.  I decided to give that a try.  I started by cutting my four main walls out of a piece of matte board.

Conveniently, the back side of the board is white.  On the back of each piece, I draw a grid identical to the stud design of the first model.  This made it easy to plot out the window and door openings.

It turns out that the matte board that I'm using is almost exactly 4 scale inches thick, or about the same thickness as the scale 2"x4" studs that I used in the first model.  The new walls won't be any different than the old ones in terms of thickness.

Using a brand new knife blade (the safest blade is a sharp blade), and the handy grids that I drew on the wall segments, I cut out all of the window and door openings.

A little bit of trusty Elmer's Glue, and the first two wall segments are joined together.

The best part?  It took less than 2 hours to get this far.  The first model, with the framed walls, took about a week of evenings to reach the point shown in that first photo.  I might have just found a new favorite construction technique!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Published Article Number Three!

If you subscribe to NMRA Magazine, and you've received your June issue, turn to page 24.  My third published article is in there!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Quest For The MMR: Author

One down, six to go.

If you've paid any attention to this blog over the past couple of years, you know that I'm working towards becoming a "Master Model Railroader", an achievement program endorsed by the National Model Railroad Association.  It requires a good deal of work, a good deal of effort, lots of paperwork, and a healthy level of patience.

Why, you might ask, would someone do this?  Aren't "toy trains" supposed to be fun?

First, you need to understand that I don't view these as "toys", no more than another guy sees his golf clubs or his classic car as a toy.  To me, this is an art form, a three-dimensional art form.  It's a form of expression, and a learning exercise.  I get to improve my writing skills.  I get to improve my photography skills.  I learn about painting and electronics and carpentry.  I get to do a lot of historical research.  Most of all, I get to CREATE stuff instead of destroying it.

Second, I don't see this as work.  I'm a goal-oriented person.  I see a task to be accomplished, a goal to be achieved, or, as a good friend and fellow modeler has said it, a milestone to be reached.

Third, it's a way to distinguish myself in the modeling community.  There are millions of model railroaders around the world, but less than 500 have completed the MMR program.  I'm lucky enough to have two of them nearby to lean on, and several others that are ready and willing to help me out.

So, long story short, I received my first of seven certificates this past weekend at the TLR convention:

Six more to go...

TLR 2012: Boys Will Be Boys

Have you ever seen 100 grown men jump up and down, giggling with excitement?  If you were in Dell Rapids, South Dakota, this past Saturday, you might have.  The excitement was building as we stood there, waiting for these beautiful Dakota & Iowa locomotives, #2512 and #2513, stop to pick us up.  The track really wasn't as wavy as it appears, it's distortion from the telephoto lens.

Behind the locomotives you can see three bright yellow cabooses.  We were supposed to ride in those cabooses, safely seated and looking out the window.  Not all of us listened, opting instead to stand on the platform of the caboose, directly behind the locomotives.  This was my view for the entire trip.  I didn't win the raffle for a seat in the locomotive, but this was almost as good.

Turn that wheel.  I triple-dog-dare you...

At the end of the trip, after crossing the bridge over Sioux Falls, they parked the train so that we could take pictures of the locomotives.

While we were sitting there, some kids came running over from the park to see what was going on.  One of the guys from the crew let them climb up into the cab for a look.  Meanwhile, I was out front, trying to get a good photo of the headlight gleaming on the rail head.

One more item of business to take care of before calling it a day.  Group photo, with a lucky few getting to stand on the walkway of #2513.  Sixth person from the right, blue shirt, camera around his neck - that's me! First time I've been on an idling locomotive, you can just feel the power rumbling under your feet.  Was I giddy?  Possibly.

TLR 2012: A Bridge To Awesome!

This past weekend was the 2012 convention for the Thousand Lakes Region of the NMRA.  I have so many things to say about it that I don't know where to start, so I think I'll just start with one word.

One of the other attendees said it best - "This was the most fun I've ever had with my clothes on".  I couldn't agree more.  The folks in the Dakota Southeastern Region know how to hold a convention!  If fun is measured in "number of photos taken", I had a blast - I racked up a whopping 289 photos over 2 days.  It's going to take some time to sort through them all, and most won't be posted anywhere, but I want to start getting some of the good ones published.  I'll start with the highlight of the weekend.

If you've ever been to Sioux Falls, specifically Falls Park, you know that there is a railroad bridge that crosses over the river and the falls.  I happen to have a photo:

Now, imagine what the view would be like from atop that bridge.  If only there was a way to get up there to have a look.  Oh, I have a photo of that too!

Right about now, you're shaking your head in disapproval, maybe uttering a "tsk, tsk", assuming that I was trespassing by walking out on that bridge.  You would be wrong.  In this next photo, also looking down from the bridge, you'll see a bid of yellow and red.

What could that yellow object be?  What sort of yellow object would you find on top of a railroad bridge?  How about not one, but TWO big yellow diesel locomotives?  Two locomotives pulling a rabid group of railfans, right out onto the bridge, then stopping to let those railfans off to have a look around?

Another look from out front:

Was this coolest thing that happened this weekend?  I'm sure something cooler happened somewhere in the world, but I didn't see it.  This was certainly the highlight of my weekend month year.  To future convention planners, the bar has been raised very, VERY high!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Great Day For a Layout Tour!

Today was the spring layout tour for the Twin Cities Division of the NMRA.  It was also the first time I've ever opened a layout of my own up for public visitation.  I'm still shocked that I was invited to be on the tour, but judging from some of the visitor comments, they were pleased with what they got to see.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but having been on a few previous tours (as a spectator), I knew a little about the protocol.  I built myself a little railroad crossbuck to use as a driveway marker.  I made up a couple of "This Way To The Trains" signs.  I bought cookies (an important part of any layout tour).  Realizing this morning that I didn't have a guestbook for people to sign, I ran out and bought one.

At 11:50am, I placed my signs into position.  I put the dog outside, and popped a model railroading DVD into the player, on infinite loop.  I arranged copies of each of my magazine articles for people to see.  There were information sheets on the layout, describing the various buildings that people would see.  Everything was in place, I was ready.  It's now 12:00 noon, show time.

I waited.  12:15.  Still waiting.  What if nobody comes?  Turned out to not be a problem, as the first visitors arrived within a few minutes of that thought.  There was a pretty steady flow of traffic from that point, continuing until just after the 5:00 closing of the tour.  Lots of familiar faces from the TCD, plus many people that I had never met before today.  All in all, 33 people signed the guestbook, and I know a few people didn't sign it, so I'm estimating my overall attendance to be somewhere around 40-45 people.  Seems like a pretty good turnout to me!  At one point, I think my dog was the star of the show, not the layout.