Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Not So Wordless Wednesday #56

Before I get down to business cutting plywood and foam I thought it would be a good idea to check how my track layout for Adena looked in photos. I mocked up a few models and snapped a few pictures with my phone.

2-6-6-2 on the east leg of the Adena wye waiting on a 2-8-4 sitting by the train order office.
The Adena Branch curves off to the left on the wye, the main line curves right then around the walls in the back. The 2-6-6-2 would be sitting partially a long curved trestle bridge.
Overview of the scene
I can tell the amount of compression needed to recreate the east end of Adena yard and the wye will makes certain views less than ideal, but over all I'm happy with the results. A few tweaks and I'll be ready to make templates to use for cutting.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Must See Photo Collection of J.J. Young Jr.

When I was searching for a new modeling location for my Nickel Plate Road interests, it was an article by J.J. Young Jr. in the January 1979 issue of Railfan & Railroad that sold me on the idea to model the coal mining brachlines of the Wheeling District. As a W&LE employee from 1946-48, he worked as an operator and agent in places like Adena, Dillonvale, Warrenton, Mingo Junction and Terminal Junction. His experiences and photos in that article provide the foundation on which I hope to model the Adena Branch and the AC&NA lines out of Adena.

Each J.J. Young Jr. photograph is practically a story unto itself, and since reading his article I've eagerly sought out his photos.  Every photo helps open a window into past of daily operations and atmosphere of railroading in the Ohio Valley.

J.J. Young Jr. passed away in 2004 but in 2014 his widow Liz allowed access to his vast collection of negatives. Mr. Young's son, J.J. Young III and another photographer Sam Botts have so far scanned hundreds of negatives and uploaded them to a Flickr page.

For a long time the photos being added were railroad subjects around Binghamton, NY where J.J. spent considerable time teaching photography until 1995. However this past spring the action shifted to the B&O around West Virginia and SE Ohio. Finally a few tantalizing photos of the 1950's Nickel Plate on the Wheeling District and elsewhere got upoaded! Then nothing and later a return to the D&H and EL railroads with upstate New York as the backdrop.

Then in December the floodgates opened.

The past couple of weeks have seen his Flickr site come to life with a slew of updates with tons of Nickel Plate Road steam action on the Wheeling District and a few from his travels to Fostoria, Cleveland And Bellevue. Lately every couple of days a few images are added showing us new views of the Nickel Plate at work around Adena, Pine Valley or even a few unknown locations. Every photo brings delight to my son and I as we find new details or figure out what might have been going on in each picture.

If you are a fan of the Nickel Plate Road or of railroading in the coal mining areas of eastern Ohio then click the link below and enjoy the images!

J.J. Young Jr. Flickr Photo Collection

Thanks again to J.J. Young III and Sam Botts for sharing these incredible images with us!

I hope the pile of W&LE and NKP negatives is a big one!

If you'd like to read more about J.J. Young Jr. a brief article about him can be found here at the Archiving Wheeling website and the Flickr archive announcement at Trains Magazine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Overlooking the Obvious in Research

On Thursday fellow Nickel Plate Road modeler and friend Tim Moran stopped by with a magazine article about the Bucyrus-Erie Shovel Plant in Milwaukee. Why? Hanna Coal had several giant stripping shovels that were built on site near the open coal mines where they would work.  At least several of these shovels were built at NKP served mines, like the "Mountaineer" on the AC&NA Branch. The pieces, some huge, would most likely be shipped by rail on the NKP and would make for some really interesting loads for flat cars or gondolas. These loads could provide the occasional special movement during future operating sessions.

All I needed were some photos for future reference when I was ready for such a project. The article in the April 2006 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman didn't disappoint, as it contained several great photos of pieces of Bucyrus-Erie's Huge Shovels loaded onto flatcars for shipment.

After reading that article I felt I should try again to see if the Marion Power Shovel Company had any photos of their loads, so off to Google I went.

I can't say I found exactly what I was looking for but I did stumble into some great photos of several different shovels being constructed. There were many exciting shots of the shovels at work and a few "new to me" pictures of the Goodyear Mine and locations along the AC&NA Branch like Tipple "E". There was even a 1940's color picture of a giant shovel in Hanna's grey paint scheme where in the background I'm pretty sure is a W&LE 2-6-6-2 working a cut of hoppers.

Where did I find all these neat photos? On the Harrison County History of Coal Museum's website.

A place that I've VISITED in person, not once but TWICE, and never thought to see if they had a website...

I always suspected they had a larger archive of photos but nobody in the Puskarich Public Library above the museum was able to help with further information or who to contact when I inquired.

Lesson learned to always check for a website for a place you visit for further info, you never know what you'll find.

So if big shovels mining coal interests you at all check out the Harrison County History of Coal Museum's website, you wont be disappointed. The physical Museum is pretty neat and is also worth a visit if you're in Cadiz, Ohio.

Harrison County History of Coal Museum, Cadiz, OH

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Monday, December 7, 2015

"A Date Which Will Live In Infamy"

Please pardon the following side trip from model railroading :)

Ever since visiting the WWII Battleship USS Alabama in Mobile during our family summer vacation, Brendan has gone Battleship crazy. Any kind of WWII ship crazy would be closer to the truth.

During our trip to the NKPHTS Buffalo Convention by chance we discovered their Naval Museum containing three WWII ships, the Cleveland class cruiser USS Little Rock, Fletcher class destroyer USS The Sullivans and a submarine the USS Croaker. This only fueled the fire.

Piles of books from the library followed, and soon he was telling me and my wife all about Pacific naval battles at all times of the day.

Then he discovered there were models you could buy!

I can remember building a few models as a kid like the HMS Ark Royal, so I knew this phase for Brendan would be fun and a good tool for teaching him more about model building.

When he learned about the events at Pearl Harbor he wanted to honor that by building a model of the fated USS Arizona. I found a kit on eBay for real cheap but then I got too busy to do anything for most of November.

Revell USS Arizona, test fit of major parts before painting, December 7th 2015
Finally with my busy period at work nearly over and my internship for school completed we dug into the kit last week. Knowing that he'll probably lightly "play" with the model I won't put a ton of time and detailing effort into it, plus the tooling is over 50 years old and it really shows trying to put this thing together.

We didn't finish it by Pearl Harbor Day but that's OK, not hurrying to finish a model is a good lesson to learn.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Wordless Wednesday #52

Exiled from the LE&W District, S class #701 steams at Pine Valley Yard, Dillonvale, OH on 6-3-1956

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sunday, November 15, 2015

N&W Green Machines: Update

Over on the Atlas Rescue Forums a member says he spoke with Athearn representatives while attending the Milwaukee Train Show.  He reports that Athearn does plan on doing the N&W green patched units in a future production run.

So if this is true, it just becomes a question for N&W modelers of "how bad do you want them?".  Wait for October/November" 2016 buy the IT units and patch them yourself (not too difficult of a project), or wait until 2017 and beyond for when Athearn feels like doing a 2nd run of the SD-39 (probably also for the Santa Fe modelers dying for the "Blue Bonnet" paint scheme) and not lift a finger for a true RTR model of these green units.

I personally think turning a couple of the IT units into the faded and patched version would make for an interesting project.  We'll see where my interests or needs lie a year from now, I am modeling the 1950's after all and that "should" be my first priority.

N&W SD-39 2962 switching the Saginaw Mine at St. Clairsville, OH, March 23, 1982
On a side note another Atlas Rescue member who is also excited for this release, said he actually photographed the green SD-39's when they ran around Dillonvale.  He also called them the "Green Weenies". What!?  Not a nickname I would've expected at all!

Friday, November 13, 2015

N&W's Green Machines

A while back in the post "Shadows of the Past" I wrote about the neat green Illinois Terminal SD-39 engines the N&W received when they purchased that railroad. In the early 80's these hastily relettered green engines prowled the eastern end of the old ex-Wheeling valley lines. They hauled coal out the Adena and AC&NA branches, worked the mills along the Ohio River and moved other freight to and from Brewster. The unique green N&W engines among a roster of all black diesels seemed to draw many railfans down into SE Ohio to photograph them in action.

N&W 2965 SD-39 Pine Valley yard, Dillonvale, OH 1982
So naturally in my research of the Adena Railroad these green engines show up in many pictures around Adena, Dillonvale and along the Ohio River. They even appear in two out of the only four "in action" photos I have of my favorite bridge in that area, the Jug Run bridge on the Adena branch.

N&W Adena Branch SD-39 2963 2965 2964 Jug Run Bridge 3-12-81 Jim Marcus - Mark Lynn Photo
So because of all that I've grown pretty fond of them and always felt if the SD-39 was ever made in HO scale and offered in the green Illinois Terminal paint, I would probably have get a couple.

Well today Athearn announced a new model in their Ready to Run line, the SD-39, and they also offered it lettered for the Illinois Terminal!

Athearn is also doing these as repainted into N&W black with the full name spelled out on the sides. They look pretty nifty too, but the oddity of green N&W units is the attraction for me and all those who wandered down into SE Ohio to photograph those engines many years ago.

I think a couple of these patched with N&W lettering and heavily weathered would go great with my other N&W engines! With these supposedly due in late October 2016, I'll have plenty of time to save some pennies.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Train Show Hopper Jackpot

I knew when I decided to model the coal hauling part of the NKP's Wheeling District, I would need a substantial amount of hoppers to achieve that goal.  My estimate for modeling the flow of empties and loads in and out of the Adena and AC&NA branches is about 250 to 300 hoppers for an operating session.

After attending a train show this past Sunday in Dalton, Ohio, I am finally at the low end of that goal thanks to this stunning find.

Twenty two Athearn 2 bay offset hoppers, all with unique numbers and Kadee compatible plastic couplers!  The vendor had much more good stuff beyond these NKP hoppers and it took a lot of financial restraint to leave that table with only those cars.

In my W&LE hopper post, I said I was looking to shift to standardizing on Atlas 2 bay offset hoppers.  Well... I couldn't pass up these Athearns, especially at the nice bulk price deal I was offered.
They will help balance the ratio of my NKP lettered 2 bay and 3 bay offset type hoppers. I had way too many of the 3 bay offset type since the Stewart model in NKP 6 packs has typically been the easiest to find and purchase.

The renumber job on my hopper jackpot was done nicely with decals (saving me a ton of time) and sealed with dullcote, which means they are ready for weathering.  All but 3 of the cars have the small "NYC&StL W&LE lessor" lettering which is often left off and is an important detail to me. The reweight date is a past my 1953-55 time frame but that can be fixed later with decals.  I typically use Kadee #158 whisker couplers, but the included copycat couplers at least have the metal knuckle springs which will do for now.  All my hoppers are slowly being upgraded to metal wheels for their better rolling qualities and cleanliness compared to plastic wheels.  Doing this however is an expensive undertaking, for example this whole lot would almost consume $70 worth of Intermountain metal wheels.  These hoppers only make that line waiting for metal wheels longer, but all in good time.

With these cars I can finally lower the level on my hopper acquisition radar!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Load Making Workshop

A couple of Sundays ago fellow Nickel Plate Road modeler John Albaneeze invited Brendan and I over for a group work session building loads for our hoppers and gondolas. We were also joined by Tim Moran and Jerry Jordak who's Penn Central layout I got to operate on with Tim earlier this year.

I brought along a bunch of plastic hopper load inserts by Accurail (I really recommend them) that needed finishing, a bottle of Scenic Express mine run coal, the Dollar Tree black decorative sand I also use as coal and few other supplies not knowing what to expect. I've been to John's house a few times and he's always been the ultimate host, so I should've known he'd be well prepared for us.

There were tables to work on and a table full of supplies, containers full of different grades of sand, real coal, metal shavings, rust and all the glue and paint we might need. There was even a table with donuts and coffee which helped pass the time waiting for everyone to arrive. Once Tim and Jerry arrived we got to work. Tim brought several grades of Smith & Sons coal and gravel and added it along with my coal to the communal material supplies.

Here's a view of my set up on the work table I shared with John.

Coating the Accurail loads with real coal assembly line style.
While I dug into coating the tops of the Accurail loads with different sizes of coal, John showed Brendan how to craft a sand load for a gondola using a core of insulating foam.

John explaining the fine art of turning foam into a load base.
I believe Tim came up with the trick we all started using of mixing a bit of Mod Podge glue with a color of acrylic paint similar to the load material we were using. This was helpful for concealing the color of the foam and adhesion of the load material. Even though Mod Podge dries clear, I used the glue and back paint mix to better hide any spots I might miss with coal on the plastic loads. Making my coal loads was a simple process of painting the load top with the glue/paint mix and then pouring the coal on top. After about a half hour I shook the loose coal off for reuse and set the load aside for further drying. Pretty simple stuff.

After Brendan built two sand loads, his attention wandered to the connecting room where John's Carrollton Branch layout resides.  Brendan and I had the opportunity to run one of the local trains in a operating session there a couple of months ago, so Brenadan was hungry for some more switching fun on John's layout.

Brendan on a step ladder works Canton Yard while Tim inspects John's recent additions to the Carrollton Branch.
After a while we broke for a great lunch of sloppy joe's then continued our load building work. I had more loads than I realized piling up around me, but Tim came to the rescue and helped stack the driest loads to make room for more as I worked. Jerry made a whole bunch of gravel loads for his cement plant and some loads that may work for a coke train.

While we might have been working on our own load projects, we all had a great time working together and talkin' trains.

Once Brendan and I returned home and I unpacked my new loads to spread out to dry completely. It was only then did I realize I had completed 42 new loads for my coal hoppers and gondolas!

42 new car loads!
Gondola loads of rusty metal, scrap steel, sand and coal.
I believe John said the rust flakes came off his old Ford Mustang. Where ever they came from they'll look pretty good as a load headed to the steel mills at Mingo Junction.

Pony pieces in my Walthers W&LE gondola.
Thanks again to John for having Brendan and I over. We look forward to any future activities!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wordless Wednesday #47

NKP Mikado 633 still with her Elesco Feedwater Heater heads north on the Warrenton wye to Mingo Junction, 4-15-1950

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wordless Wednesday #46

Brewster built W&LE 3960 0-6-0 at the Ohi-Rail facility in Minerva, OH during the W&LE Chapter's Carrollton Branch Tour, 10-10-2015, Chris Ellis photo

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Not So Wordless Wednesday #45

Sorry for the lack of updates lately. The past few weeks has seen me start an internship to complete my Associates Degree in Computer Information Systems this fall semester, work my normal job, attend the NKPHTS Buffalo 2015 Convention, and the NKPHTS W&LE Chapter Carrollton Branch Tour, and do all the other stuff life demands. I do hope to write a brief post about those two NKP trips.

I did manage to find some time to complete the layout support framing along the walls to the right of this previous project. A Construction Report will soon provide those details.

With the whole wall now ready for a layout shelf, I've eagerly squeezed in some time to tweak the Adena Yard plan for that space by making a full sized mock up on a long roll of paper with building footprints and the track layout. The plan follows the prototype very closely with only a few minor compromises. Even though I'm a computer science student I'd rather make full scale mock ups with scissors and construction paper than use any of the many fine software track design programs, go figure...

Here's a sneak peak at the west end of Adena Yard for today's very verbose Wordless Wednesday photo.

West end Adena Yard mock up

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wordless Wednesday #44

NKP #383 0-6-0, HO scale Proto 2000 model by Tim Adang, at the NKPHTS 2015 Buffalo Convention

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wordless Wednesday #43

W&LE 2 Bay Offset Hopper #64253, O scale model by David Vaughn at the NKPHTS 2015 Buffalo Convention

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wordless Wednesday #42

Way too modern for my 1950's railroad! However being Nickel Plate I couldn't help but to get one of Athearn's Norfolk Southern Heritage engines when a good deal presented itself a while back. I finally added a Soundtraxx MC2H104AT DCC decoder and upgraded to LED lights to run this with my son's present day equipment.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

Nickel Plate Road Modeler's Notebook

A few days ago my first published article, "Choices: Wheeling & Lake Erie Offset Hoppers in HO Scale", was released in the September issue of the Nickel Plate Road Modeler's Notebook! It’s pretty much a slightly expanded version of my blog post on the same subject with more data, prototype photos and new pictures of the hopper models. The improved model photos were taken on my new scenery test module, which was one of the driving reasons for building it.

The September and other issues are available here but only members of the NKPHTS can access that page and download the PDF file from the website. There's hope that will change in the future to match the practices of other Historical Societies making their modeling publications available for free online. 

I won't deny it's quite a thrill to see your name on an article you wrote in a publication, be it online or in print. The Modeler's Notebook Editor Ray Breyer is always looking for more content for the Notebook. So if you have any NKP or W&LE related modeling that you want to write about, drop him a line at modeler@nkphts.org

If you haven't done so lately or at all, check out the Modeler's Corner at the NKPHTS.org website for the latest NKP model releases, a tiny preview of the Modeler's Notebook for non-members and the very informative All-Time, All-Scale NKP Models List.

Thanks again to Ray for contacting me about making my blog post into an article for the magazine and for all the work that he and others have done with the Modeler's Notebook. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Harbringer of Fall

I consider myself very fortunate that I not only live near the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad but that they have hosted the Fort Wayne Historical Society's steam engine, the Nickel Plate Road Berkshire #765, every year except once since 2010.

Just about every September/October I get treated to the sights and sounds of steam and smoke from a real surviving steam engine of my favorite railroad.  Typically during the 765's stay in "The Valley" the season starts to shift, signaled by those bright cloudless sky blue days and the occasional cool misty rains that make you dig up that warm hoodie you haven't worn since spring.

The 765's arrival in Akron today invoked that feeling of Fall for me with those sounds and smells, and also that strong afternoon sun which accompanies the march toward autumn. Brendan and I have always tried to be there when it arrives and today was no different.

Brendan and the NKP 765, Peninsula, OH, 9-10-2015 Chris Ellis photo

 I believe there are still seats available for the next three weekends of trips starting September 19th. If you live in the area come and ride or just come to watch!

Welcome back 765!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Wordless Wednesday #40

N&W ex-IT SD-39 2963, 2965 and 2964 pull empties upgrade to the Saginaw Mine on the Adena Branch's Jug Run Bridge, 3-12-1981 Jim Marcus - Mark Lynn Photo

Monday, September 7, 2015

Bridge Planning from Valuation Maps

The Adena Railroad branchline stretched twenty and a half miles from Adena to Neffs near Bellaire, Ohio. Over that distance the Adena Branch packed in some remarkable features including two tunnels, one being the longest on the W&LE system, and thirty six bridges. Three of those bridges were some of the most impressive spans on the entire Wheeling system. They are the Maynard Bridge at MP 10.01, the Jug Run Bridge at MP 10.91 and the Route 9 Bridge at MP 12.68.

The three big bridges were all in a row within three miles of each other as the railroad snaked from the valley of Cox Run and Wheeling Creek to the Jug Run valley. I hope to model all three or at least two of them in some form.

The Adena Railroad Bridge 10.01 took the W&LE from Maynard over the B&O(CL&W) and Wheeling Creek and onward to St. Clairsville. This was the first and biggest (507 feet) of the three mentioned. 12-19-2012 Chris Ellis photo
In order to get a better feel for how these bridges would fit in the layout space and at what scale could they be built at I decided some mock ups needed to be made.

Last year I discovered Belmont County's excellent GIS department had scanned and uploaded the W&LE's Valuation maps along with other area railroads within the county borders. They also have some excellent aerial photography for their county, between these sources I naturally felt like I'd hit the mother lode of historical data.

Using the PDF valuation maps and Adobe Photoshop I was able to cut out the section of map I needed.

The PDF valuation map of Adena Railroad Bridge 10.01  I'm not sure if this bridge had a name called by the railroad men or locals. I've ended up calling it the Maynard Bridge. If you know differently please let me know.
I rotated it and cropped it further to achieve something that can be printed reasonably without consuming a ton of ink or paper.

Rotated and cropped, ready for printing.
From the Adobe Reader software, I printed the bridge map on "poster mode" at 100% to get a test print. Taking a HO scale ruler I measured a part of the bridge, the 153' Through Truss Bridge, and found it to be only 93' long. Luckily my recent College Math classes helped with an equation to find the proper scale to print at.

 x=5100/31 or about 164.5 which I rounded up to 165 and then printed a new tile set at 165% scale.

The printed 153' long truss bridge section was perfect against the ruler and quickly became a live lesson to my son as to how math is important beyond the classroom.

Here's two of the bridges printed out to HO scale, the Maynard Bridge at top and the bottom one is the third big bridge, the 336 foot long Route 9 Bridge near St. Clairsville (now part of the National Road Bikeway and nicely restored, Google Maps link here). Again I'm not sure the real name for this bridge, so if you know please drop me a comment.

Printing to scale a success!
As much as I would love to make each of these to scale, they are pretty big. The Maynard Bridge if made to exact scale in HO would be almost six feet long! Some amount of compression will be needed when these get modeled.

For now I have some scrap 1/2" pink foam I'll mount these paper bridges to so I can move them around my basement and get a feel for how big is too big.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Scenery Test Module, Part 5a

Just a few quick addition to yesterdays post.

I gave the static grass areas a quick vacuum which naturally neatened up their appearance.  Here I flipped the module around so the front would be against the background to show the grass better from a lower viewing angle.

Lower angle view
And here was a top view from the typical orientation of the module.

Top view right above light source.
It's surprising how much color difference there is between the two shots. Both were taken under the same light source, but the lower angle shot possibly had my hand and phone shadowing the scene a bit. I'd say the real color is somewhere between.  And for anyone curious all the photos taken in the last few months were captured with a iPhone 6.

I also got out some Bragdon weathering powders and rubbed some dark rust along the front set of rails using a small microbrush. This really helped make the joint bars visible like I questioned in Part 2 of this module project. I'm a little more enamored by the joint bars now and would like to try out the ones from Precision Design Co. to help make a final decision on how best to use them in the future.

Front track weathered with Bragdon powders.
Today I also stopped by the local Pet Supplies Plus and found they no longer carried the aquarium substrate I used for the cinder/coal ballast in this project. The bag I bought on clearance must've been the last one they had. I know I've seen similar stuff at Petsmart, so I'll investigate their supply. I also have a local specialty fish and aquarium supply shop nearby I should check out as well.

I just hope at either place I don't have to explain why I need a specific texture...

And lastly I wanted to share while investigating static grass techniques I stumbled upon the work of Martin Welburg. His work with static grasses to build very fine looking trees, bushes and weedy fields is completely out of this world.

Here's a link to a 21 page thread where he shows tons of photos of his work and how he did it.


It's totally worth looking at all 21 pages if you use or plan to use static grasses.

Quick links to the rest of this Series

Scenery Test Module Part 2
Scenery Test Module Part 3
Scenery Test Module Part 4
Scenery Test Module Part 5
Scenery Test Module Part 5a

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Scenery Test Module, Part 5

On Saturday my friend and fellow Nickel Plate Road modeler Tim Moran came over with his homemade static grass applicator and some grasses to try out on my scenery test module.

The applicator was built from a small PVC pipe as the handle with the electronics stuffed inside and a recycled food container with a screen built into the lid for distributing the static grass. If you search on Google there are many how-to videos and guides for building your own.

Because I didn't take a good photo of Tim's applicator here's a good example of one, the popular factory built model by Noch. A lot of people build their own because it seems pretty simple to do and also store bought applicators tend to be pretty pricey, the Noch GRASmaster pictured retails for around $190.

Noch GRASmaster

For those that may not know about this scenery method, the static grass applicator applies a static charge to the rayon or polyester "grass" fibers as it passes through the screen. The fibers then fall vertically onto a surface coated with glue which is grounded to the static grass applicator by a wire usually clipped to a pin or nail stuck in the glue. The end result looks like grass!

We started with a small area so Tim could show Brendan and I how it worked. We mixed some Silfor 6mm late summer, early summer? and a brown grass together, brushed some glue on the module and went to work. One tip Tim had was mixing a few drops of water to the white glue to help it be a better conductor.

Gently shaking or tapping the applicator about 1 to 2 inches above the surface of the glue distributed the grass fibers and soon a little grassy patch appeared. After the glue dried any grass that missed the glue would be vacuumed up for reuse.

Tim showing us how to use his static grass applicator.
Brendan and I both took a turn extending the grass patch down the edge of the module. It was pretty easy and enjoyable with results you can instantly appreciate. Tim explained a few other techniques you can use like stacking the grass fibers or adding some ground foam on top make it look like more than a mound of grass. We also talked about the scenery and grass work of Jason Klocke which in my opinion is always worth talking about and is just incredible looking.

If you want to see some great scenery by Jason and others just just search the Yahoo Proto-Layout Group's Photo section and if you're not a member yet, this thread on Model-Railroad-Hobbyist has a couple photos he's shared of his work.

Anyways here's the humble results of my first experimentation with scenic grass.

At this point the glue was still drying so I hadn't vacuumed up the loose scattered bits yet, but this simple start still makes me smile when I look at it.

Since Tim needed to order another Ion Generator for one of his grass applicators, I piggybacked on his order for one so I can build my own.

For the time being this will be it on building my scenery test module. I'd like to build my own grass applicator and use it on the rest of the module for future updates.

Thanks for following along this far!

Quick links to the rest of this Series

Scenery Test Module Part 5a

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wordless Wednesday #39

521 parked next to the sand house at Pine Valley Yard, Dillonvale, OH  6-5-1955

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Scenery Test Module, Part 4

A few years ago there was a hot topic on the Yahoo Proto-Layouts group about something called a Pot Topper. Someone had found in the aisles containing stuff to make potted fake floral arrangements at a Michaels craft store a curious disk of static grass. It was supposed to look like a mossy planting top, hence "Pot Topper", but to us modelers it looked like something that could be cut up to look like weedy or grassy patches.

Intrigued by the online conversation, I went to a Michaels and found one for probably 5 or 6 bucks. It looked promising but I had no reason to use it at the time so it sat on my shelf until now. At some point in time Michaels stopped stocking them in my area but I wonder what they thought of the sudden uptick in pot topper sales that month, or maybe they were happy to finally get rid of them.

With pot toppers gone, another cheap alternative to store bought static grass patches is with a static grass applicator. You can make your own with a baking pan and some spots of glue.

Pot Topper chunk

Anyways years later my pot topper finally meets it's destiny on my scenery test module.

The Pot Topper is a disk of white fluffy poly fiber stuffing material coated in a brown dirt/sawdust material with the bright green static grass applied on top. Using scissors I cut off the bottom then trimmed as much of the stuffing off the bottom of the grassy side as possible. I then cut it up into several organic looking shapes and placed a few pieces in the low area in the module front and a couple on the hill tops in the back.

Trimming a Pot Topper piece
Pot Topper placement

I thought about using white glue or matte medium to attach the pot topper pieces, but they were to springy and would need to be weighted down. Also I really wanted to keep moving on this part of the project so out came the glue gun. This ended up being a great decision and really helped over come the springiness of the pot topper and sped things along.

After using the glue gun on the pot toppers and especially on gluing the chunks of foam together, I learned my cheap little model is barely adequate. A few squeezes of the trigger and the heating element can hardly keep up with the demand. It's come in handy a couple times so far, but when I get into major layout construction a bigger model will be a good upgrade.

Years ago I bought probably the cheapest glue gun I could find. Sometimes it's a good idea to spend a little more to get something better.

With the pot topper pieces glued in place it was time to move on to using coarser ground foams on the rest of the scene.

Woodland Scenics Coarse Turf foam selection

I collected a variety of Woodland Scenics ground foams for this project. For the most part I found it better to dump them out into sandwich bags for easier handling.

These were the ground foams I used.
  • Earth Coarse Turf
  • Burnt Grass Coarse Turf
  • Light Green Coarse Turf
  • Medium Green Coarse Turf
  • Dark Green Coarse Turf
  • Medium Green Underbrush
  • Olive Green Bushes
  • Light Green Bushes
  • Medium Green Foliage Net

I tried to keep changing foam colors and not let one dominate an area too much. I piled coarse foams along the pot topper edges to help blend them into the scenery better using colors that matched. Along the edge of the ballast I used the earth and burnt grass for the look of dead or dying grass.

When I was happy with the look for the area I was working on, I fixed the ground foam cover in place. I used the same alcohol mist for wetting and the 4:1 diluted white glue for the ground foams as I did for the ballast. I used a lot of my glue mixture doing the ballast, so during this phase of scenery I started pouring it into a yellow lid top to make it easier to fill my eyedropper. Also while things were still wet I sprinkled a little bit of Noch leaves on the pot topper pieces.

I noticed any wet water spray or glue floods that happened along the ballast softened the glue binding the sand/aquarium gravel to the point that it could be disturbed if touched. A few times I had to pat the ballast back to shape but once dry again it turned rock hard.

Front of module finished and glue soaked
With the front of the module done I continued on to the backside.

Here on the tops of the hills I wanted to thicken things a bit by using Woodland Scenics Bushes and Underbrush foams. I knew that these would be difficult to get to stay in place so I coated the area with brushed on matte medium. Again I tried to blend in the edges of the pot toppers and vary the colors used while also including the small coarse foams like the module front.

Work begins on the back track side hills.
Applying underbrush foam to the brow of an undercut.

Getting the bushy undergrowth foam to stick the top brow of the eroded hillsides was probably the most trouble I ran across during this phase of scenery. Letting the Modge Podge set for a bit before applying the underbrush helped. I thought about cheating and tilting the whole module so that spot was horizontal, but I knew I might not have those options when working on the future layout. That's what this project is for, learning how to solve issues and learn from any mistakes.

One thing I learned from this part of the project was to use full strength white glue on the bushy stuff. The matte medium did its job eventually but the white glue was thicker and would probably do better to hold scenery materials on a steep hillside right from the start.
Back of module finished and glue soaked.

Once I was done with the ground foams and I looked the module over I realized I still wasn't happy with the bare earth patches on the hillsides. So I redid them by misting the area first with wet water and then tapping a spoon of more dirt on those areas adding some dirt piles to the bottom of the patches. I then misted again with the wet water and flowed diluted glue on the dirt spots.

Afterward they seemed to stand out more and I think it looked a lot better.

While I had the mesh screen out to sift dirt for the hillside, I decided to tackle the road right afterwards. I wanted the look of a gravel road, but I hadn't really done any research on how to do one.
Luckily I had an idea before I even thought to walk over to the computer. I think it worked out pretty well.

Fresh dirt along the back hill and wet cement that will hopefully look like a gravel road.

Using Quikcrete Hydraulic Cement in a yellow bucket I had on hand, I sifted it through a fine mesh over the road area. Then I gently misted water from high over top until the whole road was wet.

At this point I let the module sit overnight for everything to dry.

Glues and cement are dry. I couldn't help but to add some hoppers to set the scene.
By morning all the glue was pretty much dried and the road looked better than I thought for a spur of the moment idea.The road is not rock solid like concrete and is a bit dusty but it seems to be holding up well. We'll see what happens over time with it.

Major scenery work complete.

Putting down the coarse ground foams and bushes over the whole module and adding the gravel road took about 2 1/2 hours. The time went by really fast and I really enjoyed myself while doing it. I now feel that any fear I had of doing scenery is mostly gone and replaced with a want to do more.

Next up, trying out real static grass.

Quick links to the rest of this Series

Scenery Test Module Part 5
Scenery Test Module Part 5a