Monday, February 24, 2014

Adding Ties to Model Bridges on a Curve 24FEB14

 Getting around a Straight Bridge

There are many examples of streams, arroyos, and gullies that must be bridged on a curve by railroads. It would not be a very smooth ride on a train if every time a curving rail line had to cross something with a bridge, the track straightened out. Yet, the physics of building materials requires that straight pieces are used for construction.  Whether it is a wooden pile bridge or a steel bridge, the stringers are usually straight - even if only from pier to pier.

So, railroads overlay their curving line above the straight stringers. These photographs show how this works. In the top of the photograph is the HOn3 Micro-Engineering 30 foot open deck girder bridge. Below that is a scratch built low pile bridge. Actually, the lower bridge has only the wooden stringers. The piles and sway braces will be built later.

Even though the Micro-Engineering bridge has a piece of HOn3 bridge flex track that come with it, I wanted to use wooden ties to give a varied appearance. I stained Campbell Scale Models Profile Ties with Builders in Scale Silverwood, Brownwood Stain and Redwood Stain. Unfortunately, the Campbell Scale Models website said that these ties are sold out. There is an unwritten rule in model railroading - "Get 'em while you can". So many offerings in the hobby are limited run and once they are gone, you have to search for them in various hobby shops. That's why they call them "collectors' items".
Curve to the Outside

One of the subtle things that you notice is that the ties should be laid with a little more tie to the outside of the curve - past the supporting beams underneath. You can see how this works in the photos.

There are a couple of reasons for this. In order for a very heavy weight, like a train, to balance, it needs to remain over the beams as much as possible. Imagine the rails going from the inside of the beam to the outside of the beam. The ties need to follow this path. Outside of the swing of the rails, there is also some extra space for someone to walk across the bridge - or seek limited refuge if a train comes along.

Some railroads make this part of their engineering and might even include a walkway for safety. Also, think of a open passenger car platform. On a curve the outside end steps will be sticking farther out than the center of a car. In case of needing to get off of a passenger car in the middle of the bridge, there needs to be longer ties on the outside of the curve.

In the case of a derailment, the trucks would tend to move toward the outside of a curve. The net effect of all of this is that ties should be longer on the outside of the curve.

Keeping the Ties In Line

There are a lot of forces associated with the movement of a train over a bridge. The "dynamics" of force is a complicated subject, (see Railroad Construction by Walter Loring Webb for a detailed discussion) but consider a locomotive wheel exerting force upon the rail as it pulls a train. There is a tendency for the rail to be pushed backwards. This is the "opposite reaction" to the forward movement of a train. When the rail is fastened to a supporting structure, it does not go backwards. The train goes forwards because the rail is stationary. 

So, the more things that hold the rail (and ties) in place, the better.  On ground, the earth itself can work to keep the rails stationary. Ballast surrounds ties. Spikes hold rails onto the ties. It is usually a pretty solid system as long as the track gang performs its maintenance functions.

On a bridge, the earth is remotely connected to the supporting structure. On an open trestle or open girder bridge, there is no ballast. So, guard rails or wooden beams are necessary to help hold the ties in place. This is critical in the case of a derailment, when the train would tend to separate the ties.

Wooden Guard Rails 

In the early twentieth century, these guard rails on the edge of the ties were wooden and bolted to the ties. They were straight. The length of these beams was limited by the curve and fitted in place. For Colorado narrow gauge, ten feet long is reasonable.

For a thirty foot long bridge, there should be three guard beams on each side. For each bridge, I needed to cut six beams. The ends of the straight beams have a slight angle to allow for the curvature of the bridge. In the color photos that I have seen, the Denver and Rio Grande Western would sometimes color these guard rail with a mineral red color.  So, I used the Builders in Scale Redwood Stain for them. It provides a nice contrast to the ties. Weathering will later homogenize the colors a little.

I use Elmer's Glue-all on the tip of a toothpick to apply a tiny amount of white glue to every third tie or so. This will do a good job of holding it in place, yet give you a little time to adjust the final location of each beam.
This view of the open deck girder bridge show all six pieces of wood in place. It also shows how the curve is followed by the straight pieces. By the way, that plastic cutting board under the bridge is a good moveable work surface. Not only is it good for cutting, but it protects the desk, workbench or table from excess paint and glue.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Forced Perspective 23FEB14

Hanging Out with Model Railroaders

One of the great things about model railroading is sharing your enthusiasm with other modelers. Rail fans tend to have a certain personality that lends itself to comraderie. In order to get a model railroad into operation, a person has to have imagination and creativity. Model railroaders can set goals and do the work required to see their dreams come to reality. Almost all model railroaders also have a playfulness about them and a sense of humor. These things, combined with an interest in history, industrial activities and trains in general tend to make railroad people fun to be with.
Big Trees

Dick Kilday is one of those delightful model railroaders who are thought-provoking and interesting. You've probably seen Dick giving his tree clinics at the Narrow Gauge Conventions or at other model railroad meets. I'd like to talk Dick into doing a shared blog on his incredibly realistic trees. After you've made a tree following his methods, you will end up wondering if you have to water it once it is installed on a layout. In this view above, he is holding an NCE Power Cab during some experimental operation on my layout.
Forced Perspective

One of the things that we got to talk about in our visit was the concept of creating the illusion of depth. How can you create the illusion of miles on a board that is only a couple of feet deep?

Put the Big Buildings in Front

No matter what the scale, when the big buildings are closer to the viewer and the buildings get smaller toward the rear of the scene, the distance to the background will seem greater. I conducted this imagineering experiment to prove this point with the layout of buildings on my HO model of the Denver and Rio Grande dual-gauge in Salida, Colorado.

The white building, closest to the camera, is a tall building with a false front. It is the Wickenburg, Arizona Telegraph Office by Bollinger Edgarly Scale Trains. From this view the Telegraph Office seems to tower over the other buildings.

In the middle distance is a Kibri log cabin that I modified with HO True Wood Rustic Shake Shingles by Builders in Scale. European plastic kits tend to be smaller than HO scale size. In fact, I put Musket Miniatures children that I had painted on the porch and for the Kibri kit, the children are perfectly sized for adults. So, this less-than-HO building is a good far-away building.

Put the Tiny Buildings in the Back

Just or fun, on top of the mountain, I placed an N scale false front building. It's only a couple of feet back, but it seems very far away because it is a smaller scale.

Converging Lines

To further add depth to the scene I have used converging lines to draw your eye to the rear of the scene. Particularly the roof lines tend to point to the mountain in the back. This gives a feeling of being pulled into the scene. In fact, when you first looked at this photograph, your eye probably went to the mountain before it saw the Denver and Rio Grande narrow gauge Class 70 Consolidation by Blackstone.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Setting the Course for the Stream and Background Scenery 20FEB14

Creative Use of Roadbed

Just because it says "roadbed" doesn't mean the Woodland Scenics product has to be used just as roadbed. Anytime a level wall or foundation is required, the flexible foam roadbed is ideal for creating shapes on a model railroad.

In these views, I am providing the walls to form the South Branch of the Arkansas River as it goes through the territory served by the Monarch Branch of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The foam roadbed provides the support structure for the edge of the deep cutting stream and it also will provide support for the towns of Monarch and Garfield.

Foundation for the Foundation

Since I would like to use switch machines to control the HOn3 turnouts around Monarch and Garfield, I will place a sheet of plywood over the top of the oval-ish area, supported by the foam roadbed.

Just the Right Weight

Books are a good way to weigh down the foam roadbed to ensure that the glue sets with the foam as level as possible. I put wax paper between the foam roadbed and the books to prevent any contact between the Elmer's White Glue and the books.

I prefer using Elmer's White Glue because there is at least a half-hour or so that things can be adjusted. In the overhead shot, you can see the long path of the South Branch of the Arkansas River, which is a critical feature of the Monarch Branch.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Adding Rock Castings to the South Branch of the Arkansas River Model 9FEB14

Cutting Mountains in Minutes Castings

Mountains in Minutes castings are still available in some places, like Gilbert's Hobbies in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. They are getting a little hard to come by, but an internet search turned up the Flexi-Rock castings that used to be made by I.S.L.E. Laboratories are now offered by Scenic Express. I like these castings. They are good generic rocks that can be cut apart or used in big pieces to create mountain details. The "Royal Gorge" casting is excellent for use on Colorado model railroads.

Coping with Cutting

I usually use a coping saw to cut out the sections that I would like to use. A coping saw allows me to do an accurate cut without too much effort. It is a flexible and inexpensive tool.
With a long cutting surface the blade can be turned in different directions to cut out the pieces. There is very little waste and the Mountains in Minutes castings are roughed out. The castings still need to be trimmed for an exact fit.
Making Room for the Castings

An X-Acto #5 knife is a good tool for cutting and shaping the styrofoam, especially with a chisel blade. The large handle of the #5 knife allows the pressure necessary to affect the cuts.
When fitting the Mountains in Minutes castings, some sanding will probably need to be done, especially if you are lining the edges of a mountain stream. I use 3-M sanding blocks for a lot of this kind of work. They come in different grits and it is good to have several on hand for model railroad projects. I hold the sanding block with one on the table and rub the bottom of the casting across the block. This will give a level bottom. It does not have to be perfect. The bank will be filled in with Arizona Rock and Mineral sand and gravel material, so the edges just need to be somewhat level. 
Checking How the Castings Go Together

I check the size as I go to ensure that the castings will fit well and not obstruct the train movement.
I interlocked the pieces and test fit them. I played with placing some of the extra castings on the outside of the curved roadbed to see what the river course would look like. Notice that - as on real streams- the watercourse broadens as it leaves the confines of the canyon. In this case, this add to the apparent length of the stream with the converging lines of forced perspective.

The Renaissance Tool of Perspective

Imagine a vanishing point about a foot past where stream turns to come out of the canyon. This is where the converging lines of the river bank would meet. This is a tool of the artist who paints on canvas to give the appearance of depth to a scene. Since a modeler can work with three dimensions in space, using forced perspective creates an additional illusion of a deeper scene. 
This overhead shot shows the process of putting together the elements of the canyon and the railroad so that they will work together to draw the viewer into the illusion. Next steps including adding a grade to the stream up the canyon and working with various materials to smooth the bottom and edges of the stream.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Painting a Model Railroad Stream Bed Part 2 8FEB14

Paint Washes Over a Model Stream Bed for Realism

If you have been following previous blog posts, the next step in creating a realistic stream bed is to put a wash over the stream bottom that matches the source soils and rocks of the sediment. Think of what is about a quarter mile or several miles upstream. What is eroding and falling into the stream? On a very gentle stream in farm country, it might be top soil or cow manure. In an industrialized area it might be colorful oils and chemicals. In steeply falling mountain streams, rocks and gravel are tumbling in or grinding down to sand in a quartz area.

The South Branch of the Arkansas River has a lot of grays. I covered the gray part of the coloring process in the blog posting, Painting a Model Railroad Stream Bed Part 1 7FEB14.

Now, I would like to add some colors that you see in Chaffee County, Colorado. I wanted to mix a custom color that simulates the sunlight hitting some of those rocks.

The Color of Light

Here is where light enters into the model picture. Why is it when you see something in real life that it seems different than the color photographs taken of the area? The human eye perceives things differently than film - or digital. The reflected light coming off an object is subject to interpretation by the biology of the eye. There are filters in the human eye that make the world seem different to us. Even our brains are trained to perceive the world in a predetermined manner. This is what gave birth to Impressionist Painting.

The time of day can make a huge difference, too. You might have heard of the "Black Canyon of the Gunnison" on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The rocks were not black. The sun beamed down into the canyon only from certain angles or during particular times of the day. So things seemed like a dark gray. 

Check Your References

When you look at the pictures in a publication by Morning Sun Books, like Rio Grande Narrow Gauge in Color, 1947-1959 Empire Contraction and Railfan Discovery, the original slides - usually Ektachrome or Kodakchrome - are over 50 years old and have a color bias. Bob Yanosey and his staff do a great job of color correction, but the variances of color - particularly in the scenery - are noticeable. The time of day, season and even the storage conditions of the slide collections can affect the final color on the printed page.

Videos can offer a view of scenery, even if you catch this scenery in passing. I have watched the Colorado Narrow Gauge in the 1950s by Pentrex a gazillion times. This color video story of railroading on the Marshall and Monarch Passes has some wonderful detail shots of the scenery I am modeling. There is even a fleeting stream bed shot from the steam locomotive when it goes over a trestle.

 Mixing the Color

After really studying Chaffee County, Colorado, I realized I needed to layer on a color that I mixed by eye using Yellow Ochre and Raw Sienna. For this I used Windsor Newton Acrylics. You can get these colors in the Art Department of Gilbert's Hobbies in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

After mixing the colors, I picked up a glob on my paint brush and stirred it into some distilled water that I put into a recycled tuna fish can. We keep distilled water for a lot of things around the house, but tap water will do, too. The distilled water ensure consistency. You never know what is flowing out of a public water supply.
I squeezed out just a tiny bit of Mars Black tube acrylic onto the table immediately behind the stream bed I had painted so far. Then, I tested the wash over the edge and it seemed to be about right.
Washing the Wash

I painted a layer of wash over the entire stream bed, in the direction of the stream current. Before it dried, I quickly brushed it down stream with a paper towel.
Tinting the Top

I repeated the process several times, adding smidges of Polly Scale Engine Black shadows, and Polly Scale Undercoat LT Gray and Reefer White highlights. I freely mix tube acrylics with Polly Scale paints for scenery purposes. After a while, the painted stream bed started to look like it had a channel and dropped off in layers. 
Really, the stream is not as deep as it looks here. That is an optical illusion. I spread some wash tinted with Mars Black in the center channel.
Paint Out the Brush

I had some extra color left over, so I spread it around and colored the HOn3 Tru-Scale Roadbed from Trout Creek Engineering. Having been in the U.S. Navy, I was trained in the "if it doesn't move - paint it" philosophy. I even brushed the paint out of the brush before cleaning it. Having Irish heritage, I can't waste anything.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Painting a Model Railroad Stream Bed Part 1 7FEB14


One of the most important steps in the process of creation is visualization. The Disney Studios used the term "imagineering" to design the wonderful world of Disney. In Anaheim, on the screen and around the world, people can enter a fantasy land that existed in the minds of creative geniuses.  This is because they create an image in their minds and translate that image into reality. 

As a project evolves, I like to continually compare scale size to whatever I am working on. On the Monarch Branch of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, I am working in HO scale with narrow gauge. That's HOn3. It is 1/87 scale size. So, one foot of model equals eight-seven feet in real life.
It can be hard to wrap the brain around this proportion. To overcome that mind boggler, I bring in something of a known size. In this case it is a Blackstone Models passenger car. I've ridden the prototypes of these cars. I know what they look like from the inside and the outside. In my mind I have established a sense of proportion - of what the size of the real passenger car is like.

Putting a 1/87th size model of a Jackson and Sharp narrow gauge passenger car on a tabletop tells me what size everything else should be. For me, this sometimes works out better than a scale ruler for figuring out how big a stream should be.


As a "head-check" think of how many feet wide a stream is. Whatever measurement you came up with, you are probably correct. I've seen tiny and big streams. So, without going out to a stream and pulling a tape measure across it, you should be able to establish how big a stream should be by placing a known object near it.

To establish the stream, I sanded off the base paint I had put on the benchwork a while ago. The course of the stream became pretty clear. The next thing I did was mix up a color that was just a little lighter than black, but without looking gray. This would give the stream bed depth. Even though the first batch of this color was mixed by hand, I have since gotten a quart of a close match at Lowe's.  It is Olympic One Flat, D43-6, Black Elegance.


I first learned the trick of starting with a black base coat on models while painting miniature figures for Le Petite Soldier shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was my high-school job that the owner's son, Mike Weil had gotten me into. Mike - and his Dad, Don - taught me a lot about professional model building. I made a lot of mistakes back then and they both had the patience to help me fix them.

From the black base coat they taught me that it was easy to add colors that had shadows and depth. These are both necessary qualities for a stream bed that is often missing in the model format.

In order to get a fast start on the next layer, I used a hair dryer to speed up the process. After a couple of minutes of sweeping the hair dryer back and forth over the painted surface, I was ready to begin adding highlights.

In a typical Colorado stream, the water crosses submerged rock. Between the rock, sediment in the form of soils and gravel gathers. This is what creates the rippling water and white water of a typical mountain stream. The painting of this underlying rock is a critical step before adding rock material or water.


So imagine a base layer of big rock that has yet to be worn away by the action of the current. Then think of the rocks that tumble down and perhaps even stick up above the water level.  Small rocks, sand, soil and other detritus gather wherever there is an obstruction. If you have ever gone white water rafting, you know these details and how they influence navigation on the waters.
To represent the rock underneath the stream, I started with Polly Scale Undercoat LT Gray.  I thought of the direction of the current - which way does the water flow? As a stream makes a curve, what happens to the water? How would the rocks wear away through erosion? What is the center channel and what are the details of the edges? You can see some of my ideas, below.

Anxious to get on with the painting, I pulled out the hair dryer and sped up the drying process with the sweeping motion of the heat.  This dried the Undercoat LT Gray layer.
Then, I used some Polly Scale Gray Violet to give contrast to the rocks I had painted before. I painted the edges of the other rocks, almost like adding shadows. I went through this process fairly quickly.

Then, I did something shocking. While the gray violet paint was still wet, I got out a paper towel and brushed down the entire area of the stream - longitudinally - matching the downstream current of the water. This gives the bottom of the stream a feeling of flowing. There is implied movement when you look at the results. This also blends the gray violet over the Undercoat LT Gray rocks.
I went back and touched up some of the areas that had smudged too much. Not much touch up was required. The blending effect works well.
I should mention that I had sanded the center channel a little more than the banks. You can see the deepening in the center in this bottom photo. But, that depression is not as deep as it looks. I drew on the layers of the edge so that it would look like the shelves of water that would be cascading down. This is not quite a waterfall, but will look good in this location.

I will post my next step soon. I have another trick to show you that implies movement in the next blog. We're not done, yet. There are a lot of steps to go.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Cutting into Woodland Scenics Foam for a Stream

It is fun to experiment with what a model railroad is going to look like by laying out the pieces as parts of the layout come together. I use Tru-Scale roadbed from Trout Creek Engineering on top of the Woodland Scenics foam risers and inclines to create my mountain narrow gauge layout. That is a good combination for hand laid track or flex track.
While constructing the switchbacks for the HOn3 Monarch Branch of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, I noticed that the switchbacks were parallel and close together. I set up an early-version K-27 to see what things looked like. The lines wouldn't be as exciting as they looked when I drew out the plan on paper. Something needed to be added, but I had already glued down the Woodland Scenics foam for support for the trackage.
The South Branch of the Arkansas River is a significant feature of the Monarch Branch. It could be added, but would require some surgery. I took a marker pen and roughed out where I thought the watercourse should go. I also used a marker to outline the Tru-Scale roadbed around the 20" radius curve. That would make for continuity over the stream after I built the bridge.
Cutting out the Woodland Scenics foam was fast and easy with a Zona Saw. A flat-bladed wall board tool acted as a thin chisel to separate the previously glued-down foam from the plywood table. 
On the two inch foam risers, a little assist was needed from a hammer with gentle taps to separate the foam from the plywood.

After a some clean-up with a sanding block, most traces of the glue were removed and you could hardly tell that the roadbed had been there.

The course of the South Branch of the Arkansas river was starting to appear. Next, there should be some shaping to the stream bottom.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

N Scale Layout at Gilbert's Hobbies in Gettysburg, PA

Hanging out at Tommy Gilbert's Hobby Shop, 346 East Water Street, in Gettysburg, PA is a lot of fun - and it can be an education, too.  Some of the most knowledgeable modelers in south central Pennsylvania come to share their ideas and talk about their love of railroads.

Their passion often evolves into very interesting debates about the history of railroads and the technical details of modeling.  For example, "What color was Pennsylvania Railroad boxcar red on new cars in the 1920s".  That's important if you model that era.  The consensus was that a new boxcar would have been darker than the boxcar red colors offered by most model paint manufacturers.  It seems that a few drops of tuscan red are needed to create the darker color used by the PRR.  Of course, that color blending isn't necessary if you model a ten year old car in the 1930s that has been significantly sun-faded.

These discussion forums at Tommy Gilbert's are a lot more fun when they are live - and not just on a bulletin board on the web.  You get to meet the real people behind the modeling - including some of those authors whose bylines are found in model magazines and books.

Tommy has a couple of layouts in the shop.  One of them that came in about a month ago is for sale.  It is an N-Scale layout that has a good running start and could be finished into a nice layout.  So, there's lots of room for modeling fun when someone buys the layout.  But, in the meantime, the layout is set up for operation at Tommy's and people can run N-Scale trains through the mountains and around a town and yards.  Here are some photos.

There is a good start on the town with lots of opportunity for adding more.

This sure looks a lot like Colorado.

A Rio Grand waits for the Wabash freight to pass.

There are some industries - and even a Burger King.

Twin tunnels go through a huge mountain.

This shows the depth of the flatland area with the town in the distance.

A Wabash freight pulls out of the yards in the early morning light.

Remember - this layout is for sale.  Hurry on in to see it - and go ahead and ask if you can run it.