Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mocking the HOG

It's been a bit since I've blogged anything. Chalk that up to Ph.D classes, qualifying exams, and teaching a class. So anyway, my wife tells me that she'd like for me to build something over the Christmas break so we'll have a layout to show people when they come over. Not being one to argue with an agreeable spouse, I've been toying around with building a 7.5' x 7.5' N scale layout that takes its design cues from the Heart of Georgia beginner's layout. Scenery will depict either generic North Mississippi scenery (for those shortlines I love) or Memphis, TN (where both my wife and I grew up). I'm leaning toward the latter since I think it'll hold her interest a little more...

But before building this thing, I wanted to get an idea of just how big a 7.5' square would be and (more importantly) how big a 5' x 5' or 4' x 4' operating pit would be. I needed a cheap way to do this and, thankfully, I had just the thing in some 1/2" PVC pipe and fittings that we'd used to support string beans in our garden. Turns out that rearranging these pieces gave us a 5.5' square that's 5' off the ground. That was perfect for letting me get a feel for how big the pit would be as well as how difficult it would be to duck under.

I used some 1' x 6' pieces of cardboard that I cut from an old furniture box to adjust the size of the pit. This allowed me to get a feel for how long I'd have to be stooped over while ducking under the layout. At the end of the day, a 4' square pit is about the minimum that we can handle. A height of 60" makes ducking to enter a snap, but it does make the layout awfully high for viewing (64"). I'll probably compromise a bit here and set the bottom edge of the benchwork at about 56". I'm 6'1", so this is about as low as I care to duck. More to come...soon!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Branding a shortline

I've really started something with this whole coupler thing over on the S scale Yahoo group. Little did I know what kind of nerve I'd strike by saying something about a scale 1:64 coupler. Ooops!!

Turning my attention away from that whole conundrum for a minute, I wanted to share with y'all some work I've done on making a logo for my freelanced shortline railroad: the Ouachita & Mississippi Valley. This is a shortline railroad in southeast Arkansas that connects the Cotton Belt to the Columbus & Greenville. For a more complete "revisionist history" of the line, check out my webpage. The "Delta Route" slogan is one that the C&G used over the years, but the real C&G was never able to obtain a western connection to turn this into a profitable through freight route. Since the Ouachita & Mississippi Valley provides the "western connection that never was," I'm going to use the "Delta Route" slogan for the O&MV as well. Kind of like the way the Mississippi Central and Louisiana Midland shared the slogan "The Natchez Route."

I came up with 10 different variations of the C&G triangle logo. Some of these are very close to the original, while others were modified with the O&MV railroad name. Misssissippi Central used the same herald shape with "Mississippi Central" in one type of herald and "Natchez Route" in the other, so why can't I? Here are the triangle logos that I came up with:

I've run these past a few friends and several of them commented that the logo looks a little too much like the C&G logo. Some also felt that a logo with just the slogan in it could really pass for an official company logo, so I decided to revamp things a bit. Here's an intermediate version that I came up with:

While this logo is different enough, I still thought it was too close to the Columbus & Greenville logo. So for the next revision, I borrowed from the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway's logo design. I figured that "the Louie" had a similar flavor to my freelanced line (albeit, the M&StL was much larger) and that it was sufficiently far-removed from Arkansas to prevent any confusion over the logos. So here's my effort at creating a bit fancier logo for the O&MV:

I really like that last one (the difference is the sans-serif fonts) and will likely use this as the "new" logo for diesels and newer boxcars. The older wooden boxcars and wooden cabeese will likely carry one of the triangle heralds just to give the railroad a bit more flavor.

I've used two programs to make these logos: Inkscape and Gimp. Both are open-source programs and are available for FREE. Just the right price for a college student! While neither one are as slick as their for-pay counterparts, they're extremely useful and there's a whole bunch of online support in the form of discussion boards. For the model railroader on a budget, though, this is the cheapest way to start making your own decal artwork. Inkscape can be found here, while Gimp can be found here.

Happy railroading!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mulling over Couplers

So I picked up a couple-or-three S scale boxcar kits on my trip to Chicago this summer, just to try my hand at a larger scale you see. The only problem is that the kits came without trucks or couplers. I managed to pick up some S scale trucks while I was there, but the shop was fresh out of couplers. This has given me time to mull (agonize?) over the decision of what coupler to put on this car. S scale, like many other modeling scales, has a variety of couplers to choose from: American Flyer, Kadee #802, Kadee #5, S-Helper Service #1295, and Sergent Engineering couplers come to mind. The AF couplers, while robust and reliable, are WAY oversize for true 1:64 proportions. That leaves me with four choices. Decisions, decisions!!

For further discussion/debate, here are the particulars of my layout design:

Minimum radius: 30"
Car fleet: 3 currently, 30-40 anticipated
Locomotive fleet: 0 currently, 5-10 anticipated

The layout will be a walk-around design and I plan on using hand-held uncoupling tools.

From a coupler standpoint, I would favor reliability over appearance, but not by much if I had to put it on a spectrum. I was a Kadee #58 guy when I modeled in HO. I tried to use Micro-Trains Z scale couplers on my N scale stuff, but reliability suffered and my operators couldn't deal with the tiny couplers. From my HO days, I learned that I like metal couplers better than plastic. From my N scale days, I learned that I like couplers that don't rest on springs when tension is applied. While I like Sergent couplers in photographs, I doubt I'd like them in an operating session.

That said, here's the advantages/disadvantages of each S scale offering as I see them:

Thankfully, someone has already put together some information regarding these choices so you can begin to see what I'm deliberating over: Click here. Since it's impossible to say what the best choice is without trying them all, I think that's exactly what I'm going to do (though I may have already eliminated the Sergent Engineering option). I'll keep you posted...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Funny what you find just driving around...

My wife and I have a habit of going out for drives on Saturday afternoons. With gas at nearly $4/gallon, this form of entertainment has certainly gotten more expensive, but not prohibitively so just yet (for us, at least). A few weeks back, we went for one of our drives and decided to trace the old M&O from West Point, MS to Mayhew, MS (about 10 miles), just to see what we'd run across. On our way out of Mayhew, we spotted this structure sitting next to a house:Upon closer inspection, this looks to be the old M&O Mayhew depot!! We turned around and snapped a few more pics. Enjoy!!
It looks like someone may be living here. Either way, you gotta love the box fan in the window!! Happy railroading!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Scale Changes

So much for a monthly posting, huh? I managed to make it out of my spring Ph.D. courses with A's all around. This summer, I've been focusing my modeling time on applying decals to 40 N scale ICG coal hoppers. I'm about 4 years behind on completing this project, but hey, it's a hobby!!

I've also given a great deal of consideration to a scale change. I began model railroading in HO scale, but I've bounced back and forth between HO and N scale about six or seven times. In the process, I sold my whole HO collection three times and my whole N collection twice (the other couple of times were less drastic "shifts" toward the other scale). Each time, it's been a matter of scale fidelity vs. available space vs. movability. Code 40 rail in N scale is about 150% the size of the 75-lb. rail that's used on the shortlines I model. However, HO takes up about 4 times the area of N scale and 8 times the volume. Thankfully, these changes haven't been too costly. But I haven't been satisfied in either scale.

Then I saw O scale (2-rail, scale). Now it may seem odd that something that's roughly twice as big as HO scale would appeal to a guy in my situation. Here's how it started: A friend has an O scale layout. His policy is that whoever has the most cars on the layout has seniority and gets his pick of the jobs during operating sessions. Of course, he had the most cars, but the #3 guy on the totem pole only had one car. So I picked up an Intermountain O scale hopper car kit and an Atlas pulpwood rack and got to playing around with them. The sheer size of these models make them seem more realistic. Not to mention that I can read reporting marks and car numbers from across the room instead of having to pull out a magnifying glass. And then we had an operating session. The heft of an O scale model is enough to require metal couplers and you can actually hear the "chunk, chunk, chunk" of slack run-out when you start an O scale train. This guy's layout featured some sections of handlaid code 100 track, which is a dead ringer for 75-lb. rail! So what's a fella to do? I started acquiring some O scale equipment.

Of course, that whole scale fidelity thing bites both ways. Now the models are large enough to see the details that are missing. And those wheels are big enough that scale tread width is truly noticeable. Not to mention that now we're talking about needing a full two-car garage to house what would fit in a 5' x 5' space in N scale. And it's a heck of a lot harder to sneak in a 50' boxcar in O scale than it is in N scale if you're spouse is the type to worry over such things. (For the record, my spouse is extremely supportive and I return the favor by being reasonable in my hobby purchases.) Oh yeah, and the price. O scale locomotives run anywhere from $200 on the cheap end up to $600 for the ones with all the bells and whistles. Freight cars are anywhere from $20 for a kit to $50-60 for an RTR model. While extremely nice and a lot of fun to experience, O scale wasn't going to cut it on the sheer amount of space required.

Enter S scale. At roughly 130% HO scale, S scale has some of the heft of O scale but only requires twice the area of HO scale. I've picked up a few S scale boxcar kits and have decided to give it a try. I know it's a bit crazy to jump over HO when my only objections were required space and movability, but I'm still turned on by this notion of a model that rocks and sways like the real thing. Hopefully S will have that. I'm also encouraged by older modelers in HO and N who tell me that, if they could do it all over again, they'd model in S on account of aging eyes. Maybe a jump to S will put me ahead of that curve. At the end of the day, I'm enjoying the hobby in several scales now and look forward to the day when I can make a substantial effort in one of them...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The ICG's Aberdeen District

This spring has been a real bear. I'm working 40 hours a week, taking two Ph.D.-level classes in Mechanical Engineering, preparing for my Ph.D. qualifying exams and teaching a college Sunday School class. Add in the fact that I'm a sports fan and I've not found much time for model railroading or even blogging about model railroading.

What I have found is a friend who is building a large layout in an upstairs room of his new house. The room (20' x 50') was designed for the model railroad: a model railroader's dream!! I've offered my help in building the layout and he's taken me up on the deal. It's been a fantastic experience to spend an evening sawing and nailing and figuring out how to support the layout. Beats the heck out of convective heat transfer!

Here's a link to the layout's website:

Until next time...(probably May)...

Friday, February 8, 2008

Bird's Eye View

I realize it's been a while since my last blog entry. I've got something in the works on my lightweight layout leg construction, so stay tuned! In the meantime, a fellow on one of my email lists sent a link to this website: Now I know you're thinking "So what? Another aerial photography site." True, but this site has a feature called "Bird's Eye View" that allows you to see a three-dimensional picture of selected places. I was surprised to find that this feature covered some rather rural areas of Mississippi and Tennessee! The possibilities for modern prototype research are endless. Enjoy!!

Feedmill on the Columbus & Greenville at West Point, MS.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Backdrops for the Testbed

Happy 2008!! I spent my time off over the New Years holiday installing and painting the backdrop on my 1'x4' testbed layout. The backdrop is made from a roll of 18" wide aluminum flashing that I picked up at my local home improvement store. The stuff comes in 50' rolls, but I only needed about 6' to do this small layout.

The aluminum flashing is ridiculously easy to work with as it curves very easily. As long as you don't hit it with a sharp object, it will remain flat and smooth. Mounting it was a matter of gluing 1"x2" stanchions to the backside of the aluminum with Gorilla Glue. Then the whole assembly was glued and screwed to the benchwork.

Painting the backdrop is just a matter of observing nature and trying to mimic it. When you look at the sky, the blue color tends to fade to white near the horizon. Check it out next time you're outside. The effect is even more pronounced on a clear day. To replicate this, I started by painting the upper sky blue and left a band of unpainted backdrop at the bottom. Once the blue dried, I painted the remaining band white. Once this dried, I applied a second coat of white (it needed it) and began to feather the white into the blue using a sponge. The keys are to use a small amount of unthinned paint and make strokes parallel with the horizon. I think the effect is extremely convincing.

To make the tree line, I used a hunter green paint that looked like it would match the green of my soybean fields. On drying, it's a much darker green color. I'll go back over the tree line with some of this green mixed with the earthy color that was used to paint the layout base. This ought to homogenize the backdrop with the foreground scenery. The January 2008 issue of MR has a great article on how to blend the backdrop into the foreground.

In the coming days, I hope to:

1. Finish ballasting the track.
2. Finish the ground cover.
3. Build the industry for the long siding (probably a furniture plant).

I'll keep you posted....