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Saturday, December 7, 2013

This Might Be Taking Things Too Far...

Several years ago I contributed an article to the O&WRHS web site that shared some photos of the scrap crews tearing up the tracks in Livingston Manor in 1958, the year after the O&W ceased operations. Continuing my attempt at modeling the O&W as accurately as possible (!?), I will very soon be emulating these images.

Well, OK, I hadn't exactly planned it that way, but...

I started construction on my O&W layout more than fifteen years ago now. Family needs now require that the spare room (well, the formerly spare room...) in which it has been housed be converted for other uses. While this is a bit bittersweet to be sure, as Jason pointed out to me recently, I have been able to do something that many modelers never get to do. namely, actually build a layout and bring it to a fairly high level of completion, so I really can't complain. I've even been lucky enough to have the layout featured in several magazines and have photos published in a couple of books. Most importantly, through the construction and operating of this layout I have been introduced to many great people and have formed several lasting friendships that will continue even after the trains have stopped running.

As for the physical layout itself, well, it's not all bad news. One of those above-mentioned friends plans to use sections of it to get a jump start on a layout project that he has been planning on and off for a while. The locomotives and some of the equipment will go into storage waiting for the next project, but I firmly believe that they would be better off operating somewhere rather than just collecting dust in a box. As a result, some of the freight cars will be turning a wheel on some local layouts like those being built by friends and operators Randy Hammill and Chris Adams.

I'll continue to build models. In fact, this will free up some time to complete numerous locos and cars that I offered to build to the RPI club (how do I get myself into these things?). As for the future of this blog, I'm hoping that it will morph into more of a general prototype and O&W and prototype modeling blog including submissions from other like-minded modelers.

As for my own layout projects, I'll probably spend a few years scheming about what I might be able to fit... somewhere... sometime... and I'll probably build a diorama or two just to keep my hands dirty. Also, I'll continue to operate on other layouts as I am invited and able. So, to (probably mis-) quote Winston Churchill:

"This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. 
But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Finally, thanks are due to everybody who has been interested in my efforts over the years, and to my incredibly supportive family and my wife, Theresa, who have allowed me both the space and the time to build and enjoy this layout.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

What is today’s date?

Hi, I’m Bill and I’m a prototype modeler.

One of the topics discussed regularly on many of the on-line discussion groups is how closely modelers choose to follow a particular time period. On one end of the extreme are modelers like Jack Burgess who narrow down the era of their layout to specific day of a specific year. (Jack’s Yosemite Valley layout has been an inspiration to me for years). On the other end of the spectrum are the “Run what you brung” layouts with all manner of railroads and eras represented. Many modelers often state “I am modeling the 1950s” (implying any date between 1950 and 1959 I guess) and the retort is often “That means that you’re modeling 1955, just not very well…”

I decided early on that I wanted to model a specific season as closely as possible. If you find any of my older magazine articles (the landfill is often a good place to look) then you will see that I based my layout in the summer of 1953. I chose this date because it was the last summer of passenger service on the O&W. What would complying to this date involve? Well, beyond the obvious challenges of being sure that there were no 1957 Chevies on my 1953 layout it also meant that I needed to be aware of what years the various freight cars modeled on the layout were built and what was being advertised on the billboards. I quickly became quite adept at finding information on 1953. I was happy. The layout was progressing nicely. So far so good. Then mission creep…. or rather…  era creep set in.

Milk traffic was a big part of the O&W’s history and I wanted to incorporate some part of that on my model. I bought some milk cars. I figured that this would offer some visual variety to the trains seen in each session. O&W trains 9 and 10 carried milk cars regularly, and so they were added into my operation scheme. I was so happy. Then I bought a copy of Robert Mohowski’s “New York Ontario & Western Railway Milk Cars, Mixed Trains, and Motor Cars” book. A quick glance through the book revealed Bob’s statement that the last O&W milk train operated in 1952. Damn!

Right! Summer, 1952 was the new date for my layout. A few anachronistic freight cars were removed, the billboards now advertised 1952 the “new” model year cars, the milk trains could run again and all was well with the world. Until…

I see Bob a few times a year, generally at O&W Society functions or train shows. At one of these events I mentioned my era change and the reasoning behind it, and he rather sheepishly replied that in the area that I was modeling the milk traffic probably ended a year earlier. 1951 was a good year… I think… so 1951 it was. Swap out another couple of cars, print out some new billboards and move on. Then temptation raised its ugly head again.

Like many modelers, occasionally I see a model that just calls out for me to buy it. I can come up with all sorts of logical reasons why this would not be a good idea normally driven by the idea that it is not correct for my chosen era (whatever that might be at the time), but sometimes reason just loses out. Such a case was the release of Tangent Scale Model’s 52’ gondola. I’ve always been somewhat of a closet Valley fan and I also have a thing for open-top cars, but Dave at Tangent made my life easier by initially offering the car only in the 1960s paint LV paint scheme. I was safe, or so it seemed. Then, probably to test my resolve, he released the car in Lehigh Valley’s original paint scheme. I HAD to have one, and so on ended up on my bench. I should have read the fine print… literally. On the side of the car in HO scale 3” tall letters it says “Built 5-52”. Life is so difficult sometimes.

After converting the car to my standard narrow tread wheels I applied just a little dust around the trucks and frame and a bit of dust and grime to the inside of the car. It now represents a car that is very nearly brand new. In 1952. I just need to hide the milk train when it goes by.

Hi, I’m Bill and I’m modeling the 1950s…..

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Keeping It Together…. 

A Stewart FT modeling tip

I'm not going to take credit for this as I found it on the MR forum last night, but I will pass it on...

Like many O&W modelers I have several of the Stewart FT sets. These come with two lengths of plastic drawbar to be used depending on how tight your minimum radius is – the idea being to keep the units as close together as possible. For my layout the two supplied sizes are "Too Long" and "Not Long Enough". Some time ago (when I had access to a laser cutter) I made several "Just Right" drawbars from acrylic sheet. The problem with these is that they (like the plastic ones included with the model) are brittle and prone to breakage around the screw holes.

I was reminded of this when, while preparing for an upcoming open house last night, one of my DCC decoders (fortunately NOT the sound one) accidentally let the smoke escape, necessitating a return to the shops for service. On removing the units from the layout one of my custom drawbars snapped, leading to some new and interesting sound effects from the layout owner, so I added "Make a new drawbar" to my list of projects.

The tip, and it's SO simple and clever, involves the material used to make the drawbar. In the past (yes, this has happened before) I've used sheet styrene in a pinch, but it’s proved even more delicate than the acrylic. The material suggested in the web tip was… wait for it… an old credit card. (I happened to have my old AAA card in my wallet, so it sacrificed itself for the greater good.) You can cut the material with scissors, file it to shape with any normal file, drill it as needed, and it's damn near unbreakable! I twisted my sample drawbar through well more than 90 degrees with no issue, and it snapped right back.

 I’m sure that we’ve all had “fun” trying to tear up or fold old credit cards after they expire. The inspired moment here was when somebody said “HEY! This would make a great drawbar!”

 Now why didn’t I think of that…?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Sky is the Limit!

…. the limit of where the layout stops being believable and becomes a model.

My layout is multi-decked, meaning that it is built on three levels one above another. There are about sixteen inches or so of clearance from the top of the one deck to the bottom of the next deck. Sixteen inches is about 116 feet in HO scale. The residents of my miniature towns must look up and think that the sky is falling.

Of course, it gets worse. If they could loosen the glue bonds that hold them down (“Look! I’m being oppressed!”) and move their plastic legs, those same HO scale residents would quickly realize that the world isn’t round, it’s flat. And narrow. With a really big first step off the edge…

What does any of this have to do with layout design and building? Well, not too much, except that it may be important to provide a little information ahead of time some of the images that appear both here and elsewhere of my layout.

“It sure looks bigger in the photos…”
- Mike Rose on a layout visit some years ago. At least, I’m blaming him for that line….

For several years one of my side interests has been model photography, with a goal to create as realistic a final image as possible. I’ve been able to use this interest over the years to create a number of images both for commercial and personal purposes. Here are just a few examples:

Of course, these were fairly easy to take since most were taken on portable dioramas outdoors under natural sunshine with real trees and sky in the background. This example showing one of Mal Houck’s dioramas on one of our joint photo shoots shows what a typical set up might look like:

An indoor multi-deck layout like mine becomes a real challenge to photograph realistically precisely because the limited vertical space confines limit both the available angles and the vertical field of view. When I started taking photos of the layout I was disappointed by the end results. The upper deck and/or open aisles ruined the effect that I was trying to achieve. This became especially apparent back in 2005 when Mal and I were staging photos for what would become the 2006 O&W Historical Society calendar.

Enter Photoshop.


There, got that bit out of the way.

It still seems that at least some modelers get quite upset about digital manipulation of photos. My counter argument is that when you view the layout in person you are hopefully drawn into the scene and your mind’s eye blocks out or at least ignores those peripheral areas that the camera just can’t ignore. As a result, I really have no qualms about using photo editing software to add in sky or background hills if they help the photo better capture what I am trying to portray. The final image to me is as much a model as the three dimensional items on the layout. Notice though that all of the actual 1/87 modeling that you see in any of my photographs is real, only some of the backgrounds are altered.

To give an example of what I am rambling on about, here is the raw image that is used for my background on this blog.

Now here is what it looks like after the background hills and sky are added (with a dab of exhaust):

If it makes anybody feel better, those are actual Catskill Mountains in the background...

Here is another example, this time at Roscoe. Before:

…and after:

Note that the background hills are indeed on the layout, they are photos of the hills near Roscoe that were taken on a past trip to the area by Mal Houck. I blended them in Photoshop to blend some of the seams, then printed them out and taped them to the wall “temporarily” to see how they would look. They've been there a few years now! I was so pleased with the results that I incorporated similar backdrops around most of the perimeter of the layout.

My intent in adding these backgrounds is more to focus the interest back onto the foreground modeling than to deceive the viewer into thinking that I have actually managed to get the Catskills into a 14’ x 12’ room. I won’t go into a “How-to” discussion right now, but maybe will cover this sometime down the road, perhaps along with a discussion of adding smoke and atmospheric effects, something that probably bends the boundary between real and electronic modeling that I’m trying to define here! Instead, I’ll present just a couple of more examples of how a little simple Photoshop work can (in my opinion at least) enhance your model photos without detracting from the model work. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

What's Going On Here?

"Welcome to my new blog."

Oh joy. How many times have you heard THAT before?! So what’s so new about this one?

My hope is that this will develop into a meeting place to share approaches and techniques for those interested in modeling the New York, Ontario and Western Railway, focusing mainly on creating or adapting models to more closely represent the prototype. However, those who model other railroads will hopefully find some useful techniques and/or approaches here that can be adapted to prototype modeling in general, regardless of the scale or road. 

I should probably start out with what I plan will and will not be posted here. This will NOT be a detailed description of my own layout. I already have a web page that covers this for those that might be interested. Also, because the emphasis is to be more towards the prototype modeling, you probably won’t find too many posts about slapping a steam loco herald on a 40’ steel boxcar and calling it an O&W model. They didn’t have any, and nor do I.

Rather, this blog is intended to be a more off-the-cuff discussion of projects, techniques and approaches that lead towards the end goal of creating a prototype-based layout and as such will be more timely than my rather static web site. That, after all, is supposed to be the advantage of a blog format.

In addition to my own work, I am hoping to enlist the input of fellow O&W modeler and co-conspirator on many projects, Mal Houck. We have different approaches and circumstances – I have a layout, he builds dioramas; I model diesel, he models steam (well, I would model steam if Mal hadn’t cornered the market on affordable O&W brass, but that’s perhaps a different post….); I tend to work with commercial models and modify as needed, Mal buys a perfectly good locomotive then rips the guts out and… well... again… another post.

Hopefully you ‘ll find something of interest and will share with others who might also enjoy the content. I also welcome any appropriate comments that you might wish to offer.

Welcome aboard!

It’s the Pits!

During the period starting just before World War II and continuing into the late 1950s a massive construction project was undertaken in the Catskills in order to supply drinking water for New York City. This project involved the construction of both reservoirs, often drowning existing villages including the ironically named town of “Neversink”, and massive tunnels to carry the water underground into the city. As can be imagined, this project consumed massive quantities of materials, and in the era that I’m modeling (1951) one of the offloading points was Livingston Manor, NY, one of the two towns on my layout.
I was first made aware of this source of traffic several years ago by a former Manor resident, Wayne Levitt. Shortly afterwards I came into possession of a set of copies of car movement records from Livingston Manor that showed daily deliveries of multiple carloads of cement to “Walsh and Perrine” (sic). Cursory web searches failed to locate this company, but I quickly found references to “Walsh-Perini”, showing perhaps that spelling was not a great concern to O&W station staff!

The Delaware System (as this section was known) was a huge undertaking. Some idea of the scope of the project can be seen in this clipping from a July, 1948 issue of The Catskill Mountain News which references the town of East Branch, NY, just north of my chosen locales:

Will Unload Dam Materials at East Branch 
Since the building of the big diversion tunnel at Downsville began great quantities of material have been unloaded at the Arkville station of the New York Central and sent down the valley. There have been great machines, hundreds of loads of material, enormous steel beams, truckload after truckload day after day of all the things required in a great construction job. The Hancock Herald says this is to be changed and the material is to come by the Ontario &Western to East Branch. We quote from the Herald: "The Delaware county supervisors at their special session last week approved a proposal by the Ontario & Western railroad to strengthen the bridge leading from the village of East Branch across the Beaverkill and East Branch to Route 17, with credit to be allowed against back taxes owed to the county and the town of Hancock. The superintendent stipulated that the work be done under the supervision of the county superintendent of highways, Malcolm MacPherson. 
 “Thus far in the Downsville dam construction the bulk of materials needed by the Walsh-Perini companies in their $14,000,000 contract have been handled over the New York Central to Arkville, involving a long haul by truck to Downsville. The haul from East Branch to Downsville is shorter. To be used in construction, among others are the following:
  • "260,000 barrels of Portland cement.
  • "2,000,000 pounds of steel piling.
  • "1,950,000 pounds of structural steel.
  • "50,000 pounds of cast iron pipe.
  • "Large quantities of sand and gravel.
"Much of this material is likely to be produced at widely separated plants, so that the O. & W. with its affiliated connections could handle it. Repairing and strengthening the East Branch bridges in this way fits into the picture.”

For many years I had no idea what facilities were needed or used in Livingston Manor to handle this traffic, other than a reference from Wayne to a “cement silo” located near one leg of the old locomotive wye. With no better information to bo by I quickly kitbashed an IHC cement plant to be a place holder on the layout and got on with the job of building appropriate covered hopper models based on this shown on the car lists, then having the local crews deliver cars these cars during my operating sessions.

Last year Jeff Otto, the archivist at the O&W Society, came across some blueprints labeled “Changes to Wye Tracks at Livingston Manor for Cement Unloading Facility” and asked if I wanted a copy. Duh….! It turns out that the O&W re-laid one of the tracks that formed one leg of the old wye (represented on my layout by that spur), moving it slightly farther away from the main for more clearance and elevating it slightly. Under the track they located a pit for the covered hoppers to dump into. The drawings showed some nice elevations and plan views, and the unloading pit was shown in some detail as well. So, armed with this new information I scratch built the loading pit from styrene some months ago:

You can see my HO scale copy of the original drawings In the background of some of these photos…

This thing sat on my workbench collecting dust until this past week when, inspired by a trip to operate on Dick Elwell’s fantastic Hoosic Valley layout, I decided to get off my duff and do something with it. Out came the Stanley knife, a steak knife (great for slicing through foam) and other assorted implements of destruction along with latex construction cement and all manner of ground covers.

I ripped up the spur rails, cut away the roadbed where the pit would be going as well as removing a good chunk of the foam from in front of the pit. Like the O&W did, I removed a section of the ties on either side of the pit and glued in new ones on a slightly different alignment. (Unlike the O&W, I left my track at the same height. I had intended to elevate it slightly, but then thought better of it when I realized that it would make spotting cars in this location next to impossible!) I glued in another section of foam under the now gaping hole in the scenery to form the “floor” of the unloading area, then installed the pit.
A few hours later I was re-laying the rail and dumping in ground cover and ballast. For the rocky slopes on either side of the pit I just dumped some coarsely sifted paving stone mix into place and secured it with diluted white glue.

Here’s what it looked like at this point:

In one my e-mail conversations with some of the Livingston Manor locals that remembered this spot they recalled dump trucks being used to move the cement. Always assuming that cement mixers would have been used I asked if they were sure. “Of course I’m sure!” came back one of the replies “One of them ran over my dog!” Being ever the sensitive soul, I asked if he remembered what color it was. He probably thought I was inquiring about the dog. I, of course, meant the dump truck….

 I ordered two of the new Classic Metal Works dump trucks. They’re probably a little on the small size as this e-mail mentioned short trailers, but work for me. I ordered green ones. Some cement dust was about all that I added.
What I’m still not clear on is how the cement got INTO the trucks. I suspect that there was some sort of bin and conveyor like the one near the bottom of this page but I’m not sure. The O&W drawing show only what work the railroad had to do to make the site ready, not what Walsh and Perrine did in order to use it. The more you know…..  

I’d welcome any insights if you have suggestions for unloading. Any thoughts?