Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Carried Away

One of the lovable aspects of model railroading is variety. Another is creativity. I love the variety, but wish I was more creative. As a result, when I do manage to figure out a way to do something, it gives me great pleasure. Here's a story of one of those times. 

This weekend, while walking through the Wal Mart in Baxter, one goal was to find something that was pretty much round and had a hole in the center. The goal was to develop a better way to simulate the "reflector" on crossing signals. It's hard to cut out a perfectly round object and then cut a perfectly centered hole. A sequin seemed to be the potential solution, so I parted with a buck or so to acquire a bag, as shown here.

Now these sequins come in a variety of sizes. The largest ones seemed like a possible candidate for what I intended, but before I even got to try that I was sidetracked by another idea. 

The sequins are slightly "dished in", not perfectly flat. As I sat pondering one of them, (yes I actually do things like that, just ask Mrs. L4T someday), a figurative light bulb appeared above my head. These looked an awful lot like tiny versions of the disk harrow blades I used to sell at the Co-op way back when we lived in Baudette. Sadly this is so many years ago that a lot of you were no more than tricycle motors at the time. Makes me feel old. 

Anyhow, after test fitting a few of the sequins on a plastic rod, it seemed like this might just be a workable plan. The following photo shows the small size, which would work for a finishing tandem disk, but a heavier offset disk would be easier to build. 

The small size was a tight press fit on the rod, but the next size up, which would be more appropriate for a heavier offset disk, had larger holes and each one needed a dab of CA cement to hold it in place. After what seemed like an eternity I had enough installed to move forward with the project. 

The next stop was an image search, where I found this. Now you might already know that I am no rivet counter, and my models are rough impressions of reality, so comparing the photo of the real thing to what is below will reveal many shortcomings of the model. And that's OK with me. I like how it looks, and I especially like how much it cost (very little) and the fact that it's something I made with my own two hands. 

I posted a picture of this thing behind a tractor the other night, in this post. Now to try and find some tiny John Deere decals.

The point of this is what makes modeling fun for me. I set out to do something, in this case improve on the crossing signals I made earlier, and end up in an entirely different place. So not only is model railroading fun, it's surprising too. And not only that, this project started and ended on the same day. I just love things like that.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Catching Up

And some more catching up. I tell you between work and family sometimes it seems there is very little time for railfanning. Oh, and I guess I should include modeling as another time sink interfering with getting trackside.

That doesn't mean there is no time to fan. Last Monday (the 21st) involved a trip to the Lake Park and Hawley area. Meetings were set up for morning, afternoon, and evening, but the drive over started in nice light. A train hit the detector on Main 2 just as I left Wadena, so a short pause at the Bluffton curve was in order. Here comes a warbonnet-led manifest, throttling up from the slow order over the Bluffton bridge where the BNSF is driving piles.

There is a "black hole" of sorts in scanner coverage west of Bluffton. The radio still works fine, but when you get close to the detector at MP174.1 long trains can pop up before the detector registers the end. I've had this happen a few times, the latest on Monday morning. As a result this shot required a u-turn and race back east to beat the train to CR 147. I shot it out the passenger window as the Escape rolled to a stop.

Finally for the trip to Lake Park, one more east of Frazee, rounding the curve. Dark skies served as a backdrop to this photo.

My day in the Hawley area ended up being busy with no free time to railfan. It was about dark by the time I got out of town and it made me anxious to get home at the end of a 15 hour work day, so the three shots above are the grand total of my production from that day.

A trip to International Falls on Wednesday and Thursday provided the opportunity to shoot a CN train in nice light at Ranier. Unfortunately, I left the camera at my folks house in the Falls so no photo was made. Sadly I didn't see any headlights upon crossing the tracks in Bemidji. 

On Friday my #1 son made the trip home from Grand Forks. He's not so much of a railfan but we do like to visit the rifle range west of New York Mills when he is home. Friday evening that resulted in 5 trains but again no photos due to the clouds. Saturday we managed to get a shot, though. Here's a manifest on the Brainerd Sub just after crossing the Gull River. Yes, I'm a sucker for H1's, always have been and probably always will be. 

And that's the trains from last week.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Scene

The deeper I get into modeling, the more detailed I want the backstory to be. Trains running around the layout are awesome and will never get boring, but this hobby offers so much more. One element of that is operations, which I have put a fair amount of thought into and hope to begin sometime in the not too distant future. 

If you want an example of a layout with a backstory, just look at any of Ian Holmes' masterpieces. He knows what he wants a layout to do. He designs and operates it so any halfway-attentive viewer understands it too. On top of which he is a great modeler. Total package. 

One other aspect of model railroading can be photography. In a way photographing models is like photographing the prototype. You can sit your camera at a crossing and shoot train after train (especially since YOU not the railroad control the train volume-and consists). But just like in real life, that gets boring. What else can you work into the photo to make it more "interesting"? That's the challenge. And that's where this photo comes in.

Wanting something more than just a train at a crossing AND wanting a backstory, I came up with this in my free 15 minutes tonight. We're across the street from the C-Store, just a couple of blocks down from CSM Plant Food. A CSM truck just finished fueling up at the pumps. A farmer's kid, with a shiny new John Deere tractor and offset disk, has pulled in for a refreshment before heading home. A boxcar sits on the CSM spur waiting for a load of bagged beans. All of a sudden an eastbound freight decided to rumble through town. Our intrepid railfan decided to try and capture all of these things in the viewfinder of his camera, and this is the result.

To me, this kind of background is what makes the railroad environment real. It's kind of like trying to figure out what's in all those containers and trailers as a Z train passes as you are out railfanning. Just as I try to figure out what the railroad is doing to better understand why it exists in real life, I want to understand what is going on in my miniature world down in the basement.

As a side note, there is one new item I'm kind of proud of in this shot. The offset disk is a new creation, with a backstory of its own that I will share in a post soon. Here's a hint-next time you see a bag of sequins in Wal Mart, ask yourself what good they might do on the layout.

All for now.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

National Train Day

Seemed it would be a mortal sin to not railfan a bit on National Train Day. (Was that over two weeks ago already?) An invite to Mrs. L4T was turned down due to her busy schedule but since she understands the sanctity of the hobby, she encouraged me to venture out all by my lonesome on Saturday evening. Here's a story of what I managed to see.

Since there wasn't much traffic showing on ATCS, I decided to run to Staples. Even if nothing was moving there just might be a train to shoot there. Sure enough, this crude empty behind a pair of Horseheads was tied down in the yard alongside a loaded sister. I grabbed a tele from the west end of the yard.

If you haven't been to Staples lately, you would hardly know the place. Work on the overpass is progressing swiftly, creating new photo angles. Here's one, from the top of a huge dirt pile on the south side of the yard.

While I was up there, I grabbed one more looking north across the tracks and Highway 10.

I was just about to give up when a coal empty on the Brainerd Sub rolled up a warrant to somewhere east of Motley. A chance at a westbound! Here's my first shot, east of Staples.

And then he had to stop before entering the Staples to wait for one other train. This gave me the chance for another shot. You can see the new signal that is waiting to be cut in.

Finally, my last attempt at the Verndale sag. My final shot from NTD.

Anyway, it was worth the trip. Always fun to get out and take train pictures.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


That means Alexandria After Action Report. My earlier post from the site was only part of the story. There's more-more people, more product, more excitement. Here goes.

Shortly after hitting "Publish" for the first post, we were joined at the Great ATS (Alexandria Train Show) by Bryant and Mike. They had the chance to admire Ian's work and  some of Jer's locomotive modeling. While this was going on, the 8106 was in the loco hospital intensive care ward.

After extensive work by specialists, the 60M was determined eligible for release and the proud owner soon found a DCC layout for a test run. When locomotives run they should move. The fact that this one wouldn't alerted Jer to a problem. He immediately started taking things apart, assisted by the expert guidance of a number of noted HO Scale mechanics. This photo shows the intensity he devoted to the repair of a detached driveshaft.
In the meantime, Mike was less concerned about the fate of the 8106 than with an approaching Soo Line F unit. I was almost certain I heard him call out "It's the red one!" but he claims that never happened. 
Mike and Bryant wandered the hall in search of N scale treasures. I don't think they found too many, in contrast to the HO crowd (me) who went home feeling like I had hit the jackpot.
In fact, my first-ever case lot purchase of freight cars had me feeling a bit like Christopher Muller as multiple trips were needed to carry all the loot to the car. In addition to these reefers I was able to procure a bundle of 10 sticks of Atlas Code 83 flextrack for only $20, along with three #6 turnouts to match for $4 each. 
I parted with one of the reefers, as Ian needed it to provide traffic for a planned layout expansion. That doesn't mean I'm worried about the beer getting warm, there should still be plenty of space. Here are today's additions to the freight car fleet, including a lonely Atlas Kaolin tanker. 
 Once again, this was a fun show. Got to spend time with good friends, chat with others who enjoy the hobby, and spend more than I should have. A great day of railroading.

LIVE from Alexandria!

Greetings from the Alex train show! Ian is showing his small layout, featuring the Hamon Deltak plant where massive industrial things are manufactured. In order to obtain the raw material and ship the finished products, rail service is a necessity. And with rails running by the plant, you might catch other trains once in a while as well. Hey-here's a DMVW SD45 running light engine by the plant, far from home rails.
And then a rock train cruised by in the other direction. This one had the famous pair of 8106 and 8142 on the point. Triclops rule, they say. 
Those units are some fantastic modeling by Jer.

In the mean time, Ian operates the layout during the show, giving attendees including kids a thrill. Everyone likes the layout, but when a train rolls in from off-scene, the youngsters eyes just light up.
A finished product comes out of the plant. This is a HUGE heat exchanger destined for points west.
Finally, a shot of the bandit that has been handling the work at the plant.
Congrats to both you modelers. I'm having a great time.  Lots of good deals on HO scale equipment as well.