Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Evergreen Sprouts Needles

Let's put some color on the tree armature we built in the last post.

The above video details the process I use to turn the tree armatures into something that more closely resembles an actual spruce tree. Matereials used are cheap brown spray paint, Woodland Scenics fine turf in a dark green color, and Aqua Net unscented hair spray. I find that the first application doesn't cover completely but after a coat of hair spray the turf really sticks.

Here's a shot of the finished product.

And that's all there is to that! They're not perfect, but they are quick and inexpensive, so they fit right into my model railroading wheelhouse. Hope you enjoyed the story.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Evergreen Modeling

Not this kind of Evergreen:

(Although I have messed around modeling such a thing, printing it out on cardstock and cutting, folding, and glueing the printout):

No, today I want to talk about something called bottle brush trees, or a type of evergreen that is easy for someone who is cheap and all thumbs like me to conjure up. Instructions for making trees like this are all over the model forums, but I've learned one or two things that seem to help me get acceptable results. First, let's take a look at what you need to have on hand to make a bottle brush evergreen.

Clockwise from top left-first is a bit of sisal rope. I've heard of people using other types, but I've only used sisal, so can't speak to anything other than that. Just to the right is plain old masking tape, cheapest you can find. Line up on the right are the three tools this step will use-wire cutters, scissors, and a comb? Yes, a comb. Continuing on across the bottom, we see the wire that will serve as the "trunk" of the tree, and some of the rope after it has been cut into usable lengths and boiled. I don't know why you boil it, but it works, and I've never tried without boiling it. Kind of makes it seem like there is some magic to the process so I keep doing it. Now that we've got the stuff on hand, let's make a deal tree.

Cut yourself a piece of wire about twice as long as the tree you are making will be tall, plus just a bit. Next step is to tear off a hunk of masking tape the height of the tree and stick it to the wire, leaving a bit of wire past the end of the tape, kind of like so:

So far, so good. Now, get your comb and some of the boiled rope. Unbundle the rope as much as possible without tearing the strands apart. You will have a single "ply" of the rope, consisting of many individual sisal strands. What needs to happen is the strands have to be separated. Here's where the comb comes in. Comb the rope. From the middle out, first one way, then another. Nobody used conditioner on this rope, so some of it will be a bit tangled. Get after it! Separate those strands. Then stick them to the tape, distributed somewhat evenly. Start at one end of the tape, and continue on until the whole strip is covered. You'll end up with something like this:

Now, it's time to turn this into something resembling a tree. Bend the wire over so the bend is right at the end of the masking tape. Fold those wires together as closely as you can. Leave a loop at the bent end, and clamp the free ends to a 2 x 4 or something like that securely. You'll be pulling on this, so clamp 'er down tight. The time has arrived to use a power tool. In my case, it's a cordless drill with a carefully engineered bent finishing nail in the chuck. Rather than explain what happens, I'll try and show you.

Frankly, at this point, the product looks very little like a tree, and very much like some wire and rope twisted together. Time for the magic weapon-out comes the comb, again. Once more, it's easier to show than tell.

We're getting there. After combing out the "tree" it's obvious that it looks like someone spilled a gallon jug of growth accelerant somewhere in the area. Next step is to correct this problem. Bust out your scissors, and get to work. And don't be afraid to cut! My second secret hint is to be aggressive when you trim. Make that sucker look like an evergreen tree.

At this point, you've got something that looks like this:

We'll make it look more like a tree in the next post. Stay tuned.

Railfan Bingo

"Under the F, 59. Five Nine. F59."

Bingo, I said on Saturday afternoon as a very late Empire Builder swept into view at the Frazee S-curve. A tip from an OMR poster Kinsly Tarmann the previous evening that this train was running late and had one of the Cascade EMD's in the lead was all the motivation I needed to once again pry myself out of the basement and get trackside.

And so Mrs. L4T and I found ourselves westbound just after lunch. What had once been a 6 hour late train was now fighting a delay nearing 10 hours, and the sun was inching its way around to the south in an attempt to spoil the possibility of a well lit shot.

But I've been railfanning the Staples Sub for a few years now, and there are a couple of tricks that can help defeat the afternoon winter sun. The most effective one is to post yourself at the south end of the Frazee S-curve, which to my knowledge is the spot where the tracks most closely approach a north-south alignment. So it came to be that I was looking almost due north when the shutter was released for this shot:

The train continued on, with me snapping away as it passed, capturing the sight of this fantastic EMD product as it led the Superliners toward Chicago. Having been an EMD fan since I was able to start to tell the difference between locomotives, it was thrilling to see this engine in charge of Amtrak's signature long distance train.

How great it would be to see a solid set of F59's as the power for the Builder. Who knows, maybe that will happen someday. Stranger things have transpired. But whether that dream becomes reality or not, I've got these photos, and my memories of, the day the Empire Builder glided through the Minnesota Prairies behind an Amtrak EMD leader.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


n. A medieval chemical philosophy having as its asserted aims the transmutation of base metals into gold, the discovery of the panacea.

I want to be an alchemist model railroader. That means taking base metals (stuff I can obtain for little or no cost) and turning that "stuff" into model railroading gold (or at least maybe silver or bronze).

It's because I'm cheap.

Here's tonight's attempt at alchemy. Take varying parts of plain old foam rubber:

In an old blender, bought a few years ago at a yard sale for $5, grind that foam up, while adding acrylic paint, purchased on sale at a craft store for less than a buck a bottle (be sure to add some water as well, so the blender can really work on that foam):

After draining the remaining fluid (you can use it in the next batch!), spread the soaking wet ground foam out on newspaper to dry:

(This stuff is already dried out.)

Now, if you were an alchemist with vision, you gathered up a bunch of likely-looking weeds to use for tree armatures last fall. These were harvested real close to the old Highway 10 bridge across the Staples Sub near Lincoln:

Remove the seed heads and replace with a healthy dollop of this (snapped up for 25 cents at a yard sale):

And you will wind up with this:

Another view:

I estimate the trees end up costing me somewhere in the neighborhood of a dime. They sure aren't supertrees, but they are a lot cheaper too. And the best part is, I get to pretend like I have made "something from very little".

Monday, February 14, 2011

Railfanning in the Basement

I've been conspicuously absent from this blog the last few weeks. Part of it has been the weather, part the terrible light that this time of year brings to the Staples Sub, but the greatest part due to the heaviest workload I have seen in years.

I've been tinkering in modeling lately. It's a great way to relax after work and the light is always decent. There's also an endless variety of things to do, so no model railroader should ever get bored. If you have had your fill of building kits, you can switch to benchwork, or laying track, or scenery, or any of an almost endless variety of different activities.

Over the weekend I shifted into scenery mode for a couple of hours, and thought I should take a couple of pictures to record the results of my (very) amateur efforts. First up, an empty coal train behind a pair of MAC's pull onto the main from the siding.

The second shot catches a mixed consist led by an SD75 as an intermodal train on the main continues on its journey. The trailing unit is an extremely rare C44 in the "wedgie" paint scheme.

When the weather, work, and winter light conspire to interfere with railfanning, you can always retreat to the basement and make your own scenes. Hopefully as time passes, these photos will become more presentable. Thanks for looking.