Friday, April 29, 2011

The Tiniest Things

Sometimes you just know something is wrong, can't quite put your finger on what it is. I had that feeling yesterday when I took pictures of my latest effort in modeling-a scratchbuilt Thrall Aluminum coal gondola that I hope to decorate as one of the DEEX cars. You can see the pictures here.

Tonight Mrs. L4T and went to Aldrich to celebrate her birthday with one of Ted and Gen's world famous rib sandwich baskets. ATCS told me a train was coming so we intercepted it before heading to the restaurant. Luckily for me it was a Superior coal empty, and there were a number of the Thrall cars in the consist. And as I watched it roll by, I knew what I had to do. The trucks were too close together. On the prototype cars, the inside wheel set sits just above the short rib between the two longer ribs on each end. I had the trucks way too far toward the center of the car. This had to be fixed! And so it was. Here are the results.

Now, yesterday's post talked about how this model was far from perfect, and it still certainly is nowhere near what a skilled modeler could accomplish. The thing is, it's way better than it was yesterday. And that's because I moved the trucks less than a quarter of an inch toward the ends of the cars. That tiny change made a huge difference in the overall appearance of the car! Another lesson learned.

When you are modeling things, or photographing them, or just watching trains roll by, for that matter, look at them. I don't mean watch, I mean really look. Compare them to things you have seen in the past. Compare the cars with each other. Look at things like truck spacing, and the shape of the sills on the cars. There is no end to the detail you will notice if you really look carefully and pay attention. That's one of the things I enjoy about the hobby-noticing the small details and trying to figure out why they are the way they are. Tonight, I think it paid off.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Perfect? Not Hardly.

But still, loads of fun! Last time I regaled you with the story of how I was picking away at a unique model of a coal gondola that's not available commercially, at least as far as I know. There's been some progress in the interim, and it seemed loke a good time to update you on the status of this thing. So here are a couple of shots of where it stands as of now:

As a reminder of where this is supposed to end up, here's a photo of the real thing from a few years back:

I figure I'm not half done, with things like ladders and brake rigging not even started. There are times I just want to trash the entire project and start over, but I'm forcing myself to take it as far as I can to try and learn something about scratchbuilding. And I have learned quite a bit. Maybe most importantly, if you sit down and concentrate, you can make something that at least sits on the tracks. Now sitting level is another story, I may still need some work on that. But I must say it does please me to look at what I've created and see the slightest resemblance to what I actually am trying to do. I'm likely the most artistically challenged person any of you are aware of so it takes not much to please me.

Maybe I'm finding my niche?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Happy Birthday to

Once again we have reached that special day of the year-the day that commemerates the birth of Since I remembered to post on the first birthday and the second birthday of the website, it seemed like ending the tradition this year would be wrong.

And it's been another good year in the L4T world. Loads of trains, including some memorable ones, along with a lot of good memories of time spent with railfanning friends. The past year has also seen me re-infected with the modeling bug (thanks Ian and Chris!) and I have been spending more time in the basement and not quite as much time along the tracks as a result. It's still railfanning to me, though, whether I'm watching the real thing or a 1/87th rendition. Which sort of brings me to the point of tonight's post.

I'm sitting in a hotel in Duluth, glancing out the window occasionally at weather that looks like it would rather snow than rain, longing for home. To kill some time on this trip I threw some plastic, cement, and a couple of tools in a box before leaving home. Tonight I finished work and decided to get on with building that elusive DEEX coal gon that I have always wanted. Here's my workspace:

Obviously it takes me no time to mess up a desk something awful. That must mean I'm working, though, right? Just to prove that it's not all a set-up, a picture of the plastic box I've managed to cobble together to this point:

Actually, some of this work was done last night, after I finished my presentation for this morning. I snuck in about an hour of modeling then, and after answering my emails from today, set to work once more, this time trying to concoct an underframe for my budding work of art:

Now I'm setting here trying to picture how the trucks and couplers will fit onto this contratption. A sneaking suspicion that extensive cutting and filing will be required is creeping into my head, but what the heck, it's not like I've ever done this before so getting it right the first time would seem almost criminal anyway.

So happy birthday, look4trains, and most of all, thanks to the people that read and comment on these stories. It's sure fun for me to look back over the years and relive some of the experiences in my head. Here's hoping for many more years of enjoyable trainwatching and commenting. In ten more years, this website will be a teenager. Maybe I'll keep doing this for that long. Who knows?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Amtrak, Again

Wednesday morning I was up and at it with the roosters as the day called for a trip to Virginia and back for work. The weather was certainly nothing spectacular and little railfanning was expected. I did get a treat while I gassed up at Holiday in Wadena, though, when #8 cruised through town a couple of hours late just as I started pumping gas.

Thursday morning started out in a similar fashion. Even though I only needed to run to Clarissa, a low gas tank was reason enough to stop at Holiday once more. This time, the late #8 cooperated, waiting until I was just getting back in the car to come through Wadena. With that, the chase was on. I figured that a little railfan driving might get me to Staples in time to grab a shot.

I wasn't able to make up any time on the train all the way over, but I did manage to keep it in sight, and so was able to get him as he left the depot in Staples:

After that, I had to hustle to Clarissa, so was not able to get a shot of the SD40-2 and SD45 that were coupled up sitting in Staples yard. It was a fun chase, and made me realize once more how lucky I am to have a job that gives me the chance to do things like this on occasion.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Exec MAC's

Lots of people bash the "Grinstein" paint scheme that BN applied to new SD70MAC's when they started to roll out of the factory almost 20 years ago. I believe they are wrong. In my opinion, the "Exec" paint scheme is one of the most fitting applied to a locomotive in many years.

I'm sure almost every railfan knows the pioneering role the SD70MAC played in American railroading, introducing AC traction motors to the industry. The upsurge in coal traffic from the Powder River Basin created a need for locomotives that were designed and built to haul heavy trains day in and day out, and from I've read, the MAC fit the bill pretty well. BN must have agreed, given the number of units they purchased.

This unique locomotive, serving in a relatively new role, deserved its own paint job. No one could mistake the fleet of MACs as they pulled coal trains across the country.

These engines must have a lot of miles on them today, and newer EMD and GE products seem to have allowed the railroad to assign them to service besides coal trains, but they are still predominantly coal haulers. Thing is, they are mixed up with the H2 MACs, the GEVOs and the ACes these days, so we don't see solid sets of green and cream too often anymore. That's the reason for this post. In the last week, I have been fortunate to catch two coal trains headed up by (almost) matched sets of Execu-MACs. This first photo is from the Highway 10 overpass last Sunday, and it was purely luck that Mrs. L4T and I happened by just as the train approached. Different power would have still merited a photo, but I would likely never have posted it.

A week ago today, I passed through Staples early in the morning and an eastbound coal load was resting in the yard behind a trio of these units running elephant style. The sun was out, and you bet it was worth stopping for a photo. You never know how many more shots you will get of consists like this one:

You can likely tell that I really love seeing these units in action. BNSF did an awful thing when they peeled the nose logos off, but the paint job remains. I can promise you that as long as these units run in my basement, they will maintain a place of honor on the point of the train.


Said the grassinator.

My weekend project (actually, this was a couple weekends ago but I haven't had the time to post or the material to test it so the post has been gathering dust in edit status) has been to assemble the bits and pieces gathered over a few days to build a static grass applicator.

I can't remember how long ago I first saw a Noch Gras-Master in one of the hobby magazines, but I do remember thinking it was as cool an idea as I had ever seen. Of course that was before I considered DCC. But the concept of being able to model grass in HO scale somehow caught my fancy. Not $200 worth of fancy though. As a result, the idea was filed in the ever growing "things I'll buy after Mrs. L4T wins the lottery" file.

And then, last year I caught wind of this: a static grass applicator you can make yourself for just a fraction of the cost of the factory built unit! I immediately started to think about maybe one day considering building one. It seemed to have all the traits of a great project-it was cheap, you got to use neat things like butter tubs as part of the hobby, it involved working with thousands of volts of electricity, (did I mention it was cheap), and all the reviews said it worked as well as or even better than the Noch. It doesn't get much better than to dream about combining model railroading with extreme high voltage electricty on a budget!

A few weeks ago I saw another mention of the "grassinator" and surfed on over to Goldmine Electronics to order not just one, but two, 120 volt negative ion generators. Heck, I figured maybe you connect them in series for even MORE power. And so it came about that a couple of weeks ago I found myself cobbling the unit together, with the screen from a 50 cent strainer grabbed at the Dollar Store in Sleepy Eye, a leftover switch, a sour cream container, some PVC pipe, and my precious ($4.95 each) ion generator.

I snapped a few photos of the finished unit before clamping it in a bench for a test. Flipping the switch on with a stick didn't blow any fuses, so I decided to move the ground up to the screen and was rewarded with a satisfying "sizzle" indicating voltage was indeed present.

Lacking static grass, I grabbed some "field" grass from Woodland Scenics and snipped it up into little pieces to test the machine. The results were thoroughly underwhelming. Turns out you really do need what they call static grass to get the stand-up look we're trying to achieve.

And so I ordered a couple of jugs of static grass, and yesterday when I got home it was waiting for me. A quick trip to the basement for a test of concept resulted in this:

Now that's more like it. That stand up, airy look is what I went to all this effort for. I was pretty excited that the machine seemed to work just like the internet had told me it would.

So tonight, I picked a small section of layout as the test site for my grassinator. Here's how it looked after about 10 minutes, including the time to prep the surface with a mix of white glue and water:

I'm pretty happy with it, especially so as this is really my first go-round with a static grass applicator.

The lesson: if you are interested in modeling realistic looking grass, by all means, consider building a static grass applicator. Model railroading is supposed to be fun, and this project was.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

CSM Plant Food

The WCMR needed a customer and so CSM Plant Food is born. I've been picking up plastic "For Sale" signs and others like them for raw material for a weekend just like this. Friday, a half day of vacation and the need to decompress from the week prior lured me to the basement where construction began.

I started out by making the basic shell of the building. Some Evergreen square styrene gave me something to use as corner blocks. I know, that's cheating but as they say "Whatcha gonna do?" I had the basic structure and roof completed by Friday evening.

Saturday I stole a few hours to continue on the project and got it painted and the eaves of the roof boxed in. It seemed like it needed something more so I began construction of a concrete sidewall that would raise the building a few feet and seemed to make it more plausible for a heavily used fertilizer plant. I painted the main building (twice, the first time the color was wrong) and installed a shingled roof that I printed out after downloading from the internet. The cap shingles took the longest, as I installed them one at a time after cutting them out of the printout.

Sunday was the day when everything started to come together. The concrete wall was installed, and the doors built and put in place. I ran trim around the big end door and cut the door from a sign. I even managed to scribe lines to simulate the panels in an overhead door. Finally, I trimmed out the corners of the building. Here it is:

The roof defect is from a seam in the shingle sheet I printed. I'll need to plan more carefully in the future to try and avoid the need for such a seam. I have a plan for how to disguise it, though. Hopefully it will work out and not look so bad.

Obviously it's still lacking a way to get the product in and out. That should be rectified soon as I have a couple of Rix grain elevator legs on order. I've also been looking at building a leg myself. Actually it doesn't look awfully hard, with the exception of the railing around the platform and the ladder and cage.

And the name-anyone got a guess as to what the CSM in "CSM Plant Food" might stand for? Hopefully I'll be able to come up with some catchy phrase to associate with the acronym.

It was a fun project, and I'm already looking forward to the next one. I learned a lot doing this and should be able to produce a better result when I try again.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

An "SD" Kind of Day

SaturDay, Mrs. L4T and I headed over Brainerd way after lunch to get some things taken care of. Since the sun was out, I brought the camera (OK, I would have brought the camera regardless-"Pentax: don't leave home without it!")

My first victim showed up as we pulled into Brainerd, where a set of vintage SD's were sunning themselves on the east end of the yard. I crept up on the pair from the south to snap a couple of photos without disturbing them.

The rails were quiet the rest of the way to Brainerd and almost all the way back to Staples. As we approached town from the east, a loaded coal train was announced by the presence of the familiar trio of headlights. This one had an ACe and MAC up front. I decided to wait a bit and see if there was a DPU to shoot. Sure enough, this time they left it pointed the right way. I failed to anticipate the glare off the windshield, though, and this is all I have to show for the wait.

An eastbound was passing through town, staying on the Staples, as we rolled by the depot. For some reason I kept on going, and it turned out to be a good decision as we spotted the tail end of a coal empty before reaching Aldrich. Immediately thoughts turned toward the Bluffton curve, and even with a red light in Wadena I had managed to open a big enough gap on the train to make it there with a couple of minutes to spare. I shot him as he approached the new crossing gates there, with plenty of sun to illuminate the pair of ACe's leading the train.

That's all the railfanning we managed this weekend, as the clouds rolled in on Sunday and I got occupied with the models. It was fun to see a great selection of EMD's fine products on display along the BNSF on a sunny spring Saturday.