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?