Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Construction Report: April 21, 2016

So it's been about two weeks since a real post. What have I been up too? A lot! Go grab a coffee or snack because this is a pretty big construction report.

Here's a quick look at where the layout is at now.

Looking Adena west and still working on getting those yard curves down on the paper template.

Looking eastward at the Adena wye.
So here's a run down on the new construction.
  • The remainder of shelf brackets installed for the Adena area.
  • White-coated hardboard panels installed as an inexpensive ceiling to protect the layout from dust filtering down from above.
  • Combination of Hardboard and Styrene attached to the wall studs for a backdrop.
  • Backdrop screw holes and seams filled, sanded and painted a nice light blue color.

Shelf Brackets

First things first, finishing the shelf brackets for the Adena-side wall.

Yes, my wife Jessica approves of this arrangement.
The small brackets have an upward tilt.
I occasionally noticed a few of the stamped metal shelf brackets, notably the smaller 8"x10" and under sizes, seemed to have a severe upward tilt.

Shimmed up.
Nothing a little shim can't fix. Luckily I didn't run into this too often and this section of the layout won't be using many of the small brackets.


The next project on the list was to tackle the open ceiling. I know from experience having the old mocked up versions of Pine Valley Yard sitting in my basement for months at a time, a fine dust and grit seemed to rain down from the floor above. To keep the layout as dust free as possible something had to be done. I'd been kicking around the idea of using a low profile ceiling tile system but that kind of expense at the moment vetoes that idea.

A visit a couple years ago to Mike Mathie's Canton, Ohio Nickel Plate Road layout provided the idea I would need to solve the ceiling issue. I recall his ceiling looked like he had simply screwed whiteboard into the floor joists. Being distracted by his impressive layout I never got the chance to ask about the ceiling, but I filed away what I thought I saw for potential future use.

The first ceiling area I wanted to do is where the large space eating Adena wye will sit. Now would be the time to get this done before further construction made this area impossible to work above.

Twenty five dollars got me two 4x8 sheets of white hardboard and a box of lathe screws to experiment with this method for a cheap ceiling. The hardest part was accurately notching the panels for the wall studs and fitting things around the main water pipe hanging from the joists.  I also painted the water pipe white to help it disappear. Notching the panels around the studs will help give the hardboard backdrop a nice fluid meeting point to the ceiling as not all the studs are perfectly in line with each other. I plan on going back and using white paint on the screw heads and touching up some of the white panel pieces that are showing their brown edges.

Is it perfect? No, but if you're looking at my ceiling then I'm not doing a good job with the layout or operations. Yes, there is the possibility that over time a few panels could sag a bit, but for now I'd call this a success and will use this method over other parts of the layout as I continue.


I went with a common material that many layout builders use for their backdrops, 1/8" 4x8 sheets of Masonite board. At Home Depot this is called Eucaboard and runs about $7.99 a sheet. It can bend to a pretty tight radius and I knew I could use it for my three inside corner curves. However I had two other wall corners that would have a severe outside radius, and for that I visited my local plastics supplier for a sheet of polystyrene plastic. Piedmont Plastics was happy to sell me a 4x8 sheet of .040" thick styrene for about twenty five dollars. Considering what I pay for tiny sheets of styrene at a hobby shop I thought that was a great deal. Plus what I didn't use for the backdrop would give me enough material for years of structure scratch building.

Adena wye area.
Adena Yard area
All the screw holes were countersunk, except the bottom ones as they will be covered up by the foam base. Helpful tip, don't touch the countersink bit after doing 20+ holes in a row. It gets a little warm...

Next I cut out sections of styrene for the two outside corners and Loctite Power Grab adhesive was used to attach the plastic to one side of the hardboard backdrop.

Loctite Power Grab
I applied the glue with a caulking gun then spread it evenly but thick around the contact area with a putty knife.

Then I pressed the styrene sheet into the glue and smoothed it flat with a rolling pin (covered with saran wrap!). The Loctite Power Grab performed very well, better than I had hoped. Just to be safe I let each panel dry for a couple hours before attempting the bend to the other side.

All went well until the bend shown in the photos above and below. I failed to make that panel long enough which put the stress of the bend too close to the gluing area. In order to help the panel stick I had to screw a wood brace into the plastic panel and the hardboard below.

In retrospect I should've added another 3-4 inches in length to the above corner panel. I didn't have this problem on the other styrene curve in the below photo.

This one turned out fine unlike the curve in the background.
After the hardboard and plastic backdrop was firmly attached, I used joint compound to fill all the screw holes and taped and smoothed any seams. All this work and hiding the styrene edge by feathering out joint compound brought back memories of a winter spent working on a drywall mudding crew. Thankfully those are just memories now, it was one of the only jobs I really struggled with learning the techniques. Who knew it would help me build a layout twenty some years later! After the backdrop was dry the next day I sanded the patched areas smooth. I wisely covered everything I could in the basement as even with running a shop vac under the sanding area, dust still managed to get everywhere.

Even running a shop vac while sanding couldn't help control the dust.


The color one chooses as their blue sky can be very subjective depending on time of day (obviously) the season, weather or even geographic location. I found plenty of discussion on this topic in this thread on the Model Railroad Hobbyist forums.

One of the blogs I follow is Alan's LK&O Railroad mainly due to his exceptional craftsmanship and his modeling of the Akron Canton & Youngstown RR of which I live very close to their former mainline in Akron. In the MRH forum topic, Alan very kindly put together a collection of various blue sky paints used by other modelers. I knew from his blog his color choice was already my favorite and calling my wife over for a second opinion quickly made it unanimous.

I love using Behr paint so off to Home Depot I went for a gallon of Serene Sky 540C-2 in a flat finish.

Ready to paint!
Still wet.
Two coats later the whole backdrop is painted. I had some concerns about painting the styrene but after sanding the plastic to give it a tooth, it took the latex paint very well. It is absolutely amazing how a sky blue backdrop changes the look of the entire basement. Walking down the steps I feel like I'm walking into another person's train layout!

Lessons Learned

I definitely learned a lot from phase of layout construction.

  • Masonite board is cheap but it is very time consuming to work with compared to the sheet styrene.
  • If using styrene for a corner only, be generous with the length to help absorb the stress of the curve.
But mainly I learned this;

If I could do it over again I would just use the sheet styrene in a .060" thickness and do it exactly like Pierre Oliver on his Wabash layout as described in his blog

Why? As I mentioned above Masonite is very time consuming and can be difficult to work with. The eight foot sections I was working with can be heavy and unwieldy for one person to easily handle. It must be screwed to the studs or wall and all those screw holes must be countersunk then filled along with the seams for appearances sake. The sanding and sawing is also a huge mess. Using hardboard took me well over a week to complete the section you see in this update. 

Even though the cost of the sheet styrene is about three times as expensive as hardboard, I could've completed this side of the basement in as little as two days. Mainly because it's easier to work with, just score and snap with a utility knife to cut the pieces you need. I could use the same Loctite glue to attach it to the studs with the occasional screw or staple for support. Only the joints between sheets would need some bondo putty for a finished look, and not a hundred screw holes to fill either.

Would I trade an extra $60 to be more than a week ahead of where I am now? Absolutely, considering the value of the time I spent working with the hardboard could been translated to other projects.

Anyways if you read this far, thanks!  Next up will be to hang some temporary lighting, finalize the yard plan and start cutting some roadbed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wordless Wednesday #72

Happy 10th Birthday Brendan!

Brendan at the controls of a NKP ALCO RSD-12 at the Mad River & NKP Museum in Bellevue, OH

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Glance at 3D Modeling and Printing

With the advances in the print resolution of 3D printers and easy to use 3D modeling software, the adoption of this technology as a tool in Model Railroading is quickly becoming mainstream.

One of the best uses I've seen of this technology is for modelers of the modern diesel era making 3D printed versions of the latest in house cab designs for the engine rebuild programs of CSX and Norfolk Southern. Available at Shapeways the CSX SD40-3 Wabtec Cab (also known as the Sponge Bob Square Cab) is a great example of the niche 3D printing can fill for modelers.

CSX 4032 SD40-3, photo by Robert Pisani
The 3D printed Wabtec cab offered for sale by 3rdboxcar

Being that I love technology I've always been on the look out for specific items that I could use 3D printing for with modeling the Nickel Plate Road. So many railroads had their own in house designs for everything from switch stands to entire freight cars and engines the list for potential subjects is endless.

So as a NKP/W&LE modeler there are several 3D printing projects that come to mind. I'll share these ideas because there's no guarantee I can master or will have the time to create the parts I want to make. If you know how to use 3D modeling software go ahead and feel free to design away on my ideas. I'll gladly buy them!

  •  3D printing the pieces needed to alter a Proto 2000 or Bachmann 2-8-4 Berkshire into a close enough model of a W&LE K-1 Berkshire. Here's just a few of the possible parts.
    • New Sandbox
    • New circular Pop Valve Cluster
    • Replacement Roller Bearing Journals for trailing truck and tender trucks
    • Boxpok Driver wheel inserts (mill out enough of out center spokes to drop in a new piece, then reassemble wheels, rods, etc.)
  • 3D print the large rebuilt tenders found on the W&LE M-1 2-8-2 Heavy Mikados.
    •  Option One: A tender shell made to fit on a Bachmann USRA Long Tender frame.
    •  Option Two: Complete two piece accurate frame and shell not dependent on any outside parts aside from trucks.
I'm sure the possibilities are endless with cabooses, MoW cars and freight cars but these two engine examples have been at the forefront of my mind for a while. So much so that I've finally started playing around with Google's SketchUp. It's supposed to be one of the easier to use 3D modeling software tools, but there's still quite a learning curve from my experience so far.

Here's me just playing with squares trying to match the shape of the M-1 big tender to prototype photos.

The very beginnings of a 3D modeled W&LE M-1 2-8-2 Tender
I know it's not much and it honestly might never get turned into a complete printable model but it's a small step into the quickly growing world of hobbyist 3D printing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wordless Wednesday #71

One of the more colorful modern day W&LE engines, #6358 an ex-British Columbia SD40-2 is passing through West Akron on April 12, 2016, Chris Ellis photo

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Curves in all the Right Places

Yesterday we had some friends visiting from out of town who know what I'm building in the basement. I figured I should have something a little more exciting to show off than 20+ feet of bare pink foam and wood.

Not a very interesting sight to non-modelers.
I quickly laid out 15' of flex track following the penciled in mainline and using alligator clips wired up my NCE DCC Powercab. As I started making up a train to shuffle back and forth I realized this was also turing out to be a validation test of sorts with the space, track layout and potential train size.

Setting up a typical train at my planned 9-10' length including the engine and quickly proved that my design for Adena Yard works in size and visual space. The train will fit with room to spare in the siding track and the other yard tracks can be filled with good sized cuts of hopper cars.

A westbound coal drag bound for Jewett passing through Adena. With a lone Heavy Mikado it will be a mighty struggle against the uphill grade out of the Ohio River Valley.
Compared to the prototype, the bend in this model version of the yard is somewhat exaggerated but I absolutely love the look. The pronounced curve through the yard will really help to reinforce the idea of an Appalachian coal hauling railroad snaking along creeks and valleys.

While it may not seem like a big step it's little things like this that can help keep the creative fires going. Plus the visitors got a kick out of it later on.

Adena Yard above, usual construction mess below.
Today the train and flex track will be removed so work on adding the backdrop can begin before I get too far ahead myself.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Visit to the Dentist

I've often seen people saying in various forums about going to their Dentist and receiving more than just a pain in the mouth. These people after telling their Dentist about their hobby, have asked if they could have any old (and sterile!) tools they might be on the verge of throwing out. Typically they claim to have received an assortment of picks and other things.

On Monday I had a regularly scheduled cleaning at my long time Dentist.  At the end of my appointment after he did his checkup I told I had an odd question for him. I explained about my hobby of modeling trains and if he had any old picks or other tools that I might have. I also noticed they weren't very busy so I felt my timing might be good for this kind of request.

He thought that was pretty neat and said he'd be glad to help. We looked all over and scrounged up a good handful of old tools. Even one of his hygienists volunteered some old picks that were broken on one side.

In the end I had an odd assortment of tools that I'll find good use for with soldering, scribing and other possible modeling activities. A big thanks to my Dentist and his staff!

The bounty of new modeling tools.
One of the tools I received is involved in doing Root Canals. The photo below shows this particular tool in all of its long pointy horror. I've had a few Root Canals done and I'm not sure I needed to know what tools were inserted into my open tooth.... Some things are best left unknown.

Holy %$&*