Saturday, November 22, 2014

Your Challenge if you Choose to Accept it: Numberboards

While my model railroad layout is not strictly "date limited", it is clearly a modern day layout. There are still good numbers of Cascade Green diesels on the modern day BNSF, but as far as I know they are all patched to the reporting marks of the current railroad. As a result, the unpatched BN units I still was running bugged me. Yesterday I set out to correct this.

I have patched a loco before, but this time I intended to do it somewhat accurately. That turned out to be easy for BNSF 2079, a GP38-2 that kept its prior number when it was patched. BN 3508 presented a bit more of a challenge, though, since the GP40M's were renumbered when the patches were applied. Oh well, how hard can this be. I found some photos of a patched 40M and was off to the races.

First problem was to find a unit that matched the striped front end of my loco. The BNSF 3005 fit the bill.

I also like that the original road number on the long hood was patched with two separate patches, as that was my preferred method. A quick inventory of decals revealed that I had the required material on hand.

Things went acceptably well until I got to the numberboards. At this point, things went very badly indeed. They were a complete failure. I soon burned through all the tiny decals I had, with not a numberboard to show for it. To soothe my wounds, I ran some trains.

This morning, I sat down and thought. "Surely", I said to myself, "SOMEONE has figured out a method for adding numbers to a numberboard that a normal human can accomplish." Then I asked the Google if it knew who the special someone was. I didn't know whether I should be surprised or not when I arrived at the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision blog. Having made numerous visits before, and seeing creative solutions to modeling problems, I couldn't be too suprised. The specific answer to my question was under the post on "Easy Numberboards for HO Scale Diesels", which was exactly what I was looking for. I followed the directions, and it worked! Here is a shot showing the results of the efforts on the 3005. Click on the image for a high resolution view.

Basically, the solution involved printing the numbers at an appropriate size using a black background and white text on white paper. I used Photoshop Elements to create the raw material and my home laser printer to print them. After the paper numberboards were prepared, it was a simple matter to use Elmer's to glue them in place. Since the background was black as well, they blend in nicely. It's an inexpensive but effective solution, the best kind.

So thanks, JDL, for the tip on the numberboards. Turned out to be just what I was looking for. And it worked so well, I applied them to a second unit this morning as well. Like them just as much on that unit.

The upshot is this-I no longer have any BN power running around my layout set in the 21st century. Another small step in the right direction. Sure, there is still weathering to do, horns to move, plows to install, etc., but every little step in the right direction is one step closer to the layout we dream of.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fading Away

While the title could be applied to my blogging career, in this case it's not. Instead I thought I would take the opportunity to explain some of what I've been doing in the basement lately. Here's a visual example:

The itch to make some of my cars look a little more realistic-which in the case of anything with BN reporting marks would mean older-is what I've been trying to scratch. In the past the effort has involved spray cans, airbrushes, and sandpaper. None have been completely satisfactory, and especially in the case of airbrushes, the need for a place to paint and the clean up time are stumbling blocks to getting anything done. Recently the efforts have been influenced by advice like this.

So I've gathered up a small supply of tools and material, for example, this stuff:

And then I go to work as shown in the link to Jeremy's Dry Brush Technique, above. 

Once I have completed the fade and sealed it with dullcoat, I bust out the Pan Pastel powders and a small brush to start dirtying up the car. If you try this, go easy, the powders are powerful strong, much more so than any weathering powders I have used. While my skills are far from perfected, I am somewhat pleased that the cars aren't ruined. At least I'm still willing to leave them in sight on my layout. 

One of the challenges of weathering, for me at least, is knowing when to stop. Most of my earlier efforts tend toward the grubby, grimy side of reality, which while it does exist, certainly is not illustrated on the majority of rolling stock seen on the rails. On the other hand, I want to be able to tell I've weathered the car. Combined with a lack of patience, this probably leads me to over-weather a lot of things. 

Another challenge is trucks. The slippery plastic that is used to mold HO scale trucks is tough to get paint to stick to. I have had some luck with oil paint, but one needs to be careful not to overdo this as well since the paint can easily fill all the finely molded detail on the trucks. 

Finally, wheels are models too. I have been just slapping a layer of burnt umber oil on them, for the most part, although in a few cases this is followed up with some weathering powder. Another work in progress. 

Here's one final example of what I've been fooling with.

If you are interested in weathering, one final piece of advice. Set aside some time to listen to the Model Railroad Hobbyist podcast featuring Gary Christensen. His description of the frustrations of learning how to weather, and the revelation that is Dullcoat, are valuable information for the aspiring weathering artist. Gary has shared an article that clearly demonstrates that we don't need expensive equipment or material to acheive realistic results. The guy is truly an artist. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014


Man it's been a long time since I posted! On this Independence Day weekend when our thoughts turn to revolution, I'm back to discuss evolution of a model railroad layout.

I have been hard at work building a layout that pretty closely follows this trackplan (note-click on any of the images in this post for a larger view):
In another room on the right, there is a small staging yard for SOO line power and transfers, as well as a helix to get me to the lower level BNSF staging yard below the paper mill. All in all, that's my layout. 

I had a couple of friends over for an inspection the other night, and they ran some trains. One thing that I noticed was that this layout, as built, was pretty much limited to one train at a time. In order to switch the industries, the only "main" track was tied up, preventing another train from getting by. Since I hope to host multi-person op sessions, this troubled me. I started thinking about possible changes that would correct this, up to and including starting over. Which I most certainly am not inclined to do. 

Then I had a light bulb moment. One small change would enable the layout to accommodate more simultaneous traffic. I came up with this:
Simply adding some double track would free up the railroad, allowing the SOO Line transfer to bypass the BNSF job working the paper mill, or the mill switcher trading cars on the siding for cars in the mill. It would also give me a runaround that would handle the 20 car grain trains the elevator is designed to accept. 

And so today I started tearing apart my still-abuilding railroad. Fascia, and some completed scenery, out the door. I needed to extend the shelf on the left of the drawing some 2 inches to allow the installation of the parallel track, and wrap it around the top. Two additional turnouts will also be needed, but luckily these are in inventory. I've got the work well underway, with one turnout installed and two sections of flex track in place. Here are a couple of photos of the work that is in progress.

So that's the story of evolution on my model railroad. It's not revolutionary, but hopefully it makes for a more enjoyable, more "operable" layout that will allow more people to participate in sessions. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Over and Over

Every so often you get put in a situation where a train can be shot over and over. That happened to me yesterday, and I took advantage as best I could. 

Due to some family issues, Mrs. L4T and I have made the trip from Duluth to International Falls and back 3 times in the past week. My wife has even more of these trips under her belt in the preceeding weeks. It's a long, boring, and recently, very cold drive. Last week the drive was brightened a bit when I got my first decent photo of a train along Highway 53 near Ash Lake. That train must have made a meet, given his slow speed leaving Ash Lake South. Since I was headed north that day, I only got one shot at that train.

Similar situation yesterday, but this time I was headed the same direction as the train. I even was a bit ready for the train as I had just spotted a northbound and suspected there might have been a meet. Sure enough, this guy was just getting underway. This first shot is just after the power crested the hill at the south end of the siding. 

I moved a little way down the road to get him again, this time working in an edge of the rock cut the highway travels through in this area, paralleling the tracks.

CN has been doing some work on the ROW just north of Cusson, where the track curves away from the highway for a short distance, then rejoins it again. Here the train is once more, now getting close to track speed as he rounds the corner.

I raced to the overpass on the north edge of Orr for what I thought would be my final shot.

The train must have slowed going through Orr as I was able to catch up near the bridge south of town, for one final frame showing the mis-matched power set.

At that point, the tracks disappear into the wilderness east of the Highway. Someday I will explore that area and see if there are interesting shots to be had, but on this day we had to get back to Duluth. Many thanks to Mrs. L4T and her mom for their patience as we waited for a couple of these shots. Couldn't do it without their support!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Good and Faithful Friend

Farewell to a good and faithful servant. My Canon S2IS has finally given up the ghost, after nearly 7 years of service and tens of thousands of photos and videos captured.

It was my first (and some would still say *only*) real camera. It traveled with me across the state of Minnesota many times. I had it set on a tripod shooting video the first time I saw a steam locomotive under power. It went to Glacier National Park and I used it to photograph trains in Marias Pass. It's been shoved in duffle bags abused by bag smashers at many different airports. When it survived its first fall from the dashboard near Springfield, MN, I celebrated my good luck.

With the trusty S2 by my side, I learned to navigate the rocky shoals of That wasn't always easy or fun, but it was certainly rewarding for a while. I like to think that when I learned to shoot what I wanted rather than what I thought other people wanted, the S2 was at least partly responsible.

I remember the Labor Day that I shot this photo:

It's still one of my own all time favorite train pictures. Here are a couple of more shots with the Canon that bring back good memories.

That last one is one of the first photos I took with my brand new S2. I had no idea the Builder was running late, I just parked at the crossing and waited. Darn near peed myself when Amtrak showed up. (First picture I got on railpics too!)

Technically, I have a better camera now. I might just be buying a still better camera shortly. But no matter what it's doubtful any new gear will give the feeling of excitement and satisfaction I got from that old S2. 

Railfanning (and life, I guess) are funny that way for me. The new is so rewarding. So much to learn, so many new experiences to look forward to. In 2006, the world was my oyster. I didn't know how much I didn't know. Anything seemed possible. 

Now, it's more megapixels, faster autofocus, video, ATCS, trunking scanners. Then, it was the excitement of hearing a train blowing for the crossing a couple of miles away. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Luddite who thinks we should go back to the old ways. I love having ATCS on my phone. But don't be afraid to just go out sometimes, sit along the tracks, and see what might come along. You might not bag as many trains, but the ones you do get will mean a whole lot.

I sat and waited two hours for the train pictured below. I had no idea whether a train was coming or not, but I had hope and a cooperative wife. It was my last afternoon of the trip, and I felt like I needed a Tunnel 4 shot to make things complete. As I sat, I watched the shadows creep toward the track. I hoped harder, and sure enough, finally, the sound of an approaching train echoed down the valley. It was great. 

I got it with my trusty S2. Thanks, old friend. Thanks for the memories. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sunrise at Proctor

With a couple of weeks vacation carried over from 2013 to 2014 and the requirement that it get used up ASAP, I took the first couple of workdays of the year off. This morning, Mrs. L4T and I polished off a pot of coffee, and after a peek out the window I decided to head to Proctor to enjoy the sunrise. 

The yard switch job with DMIR 215 pointed north was puttering about when I arrived, well away from my vantage point. That didn't stop me from capturing the sun as it rose in the southeast, preparing to illuminate the yard. 
There was another train tucked back in the yard as well. Limestone loads behind a quartet of SD40 variants were working their way out as the sun climbed in the morning sky. I felt for the conductor who was handling the switches as the train progressed through the yard trackage. It was -21 when I drove up and didn't feel like it was warming up any. 
One more shot as he approaches the bridge. Every time the train throttled up the exhaust formed an almost steam engine-like cloud. Very impressive. 
A loaded pellet train was sitting at the scale, and I wanted to work that into a photo. Got my opportunity when the limestone loads stopped to get a switch before heading out. Oh, and there is our old friend the 403, trailing today. That means that technically the first shot in this post has both remaining maroon Missabe units in it, although you sure can't identify them.
It was about this time one of my pinkies was ready to snap off, so I headed to the Holiday in Proctor to warm up for a bit. Also needed to pick up milk. After that was done I stopped back to see if the sun had climbed enough to illuminate the pellet train, sure enough it had. I grabbed a couple shots of that, even though the wind was preventing any spectacular steam clouds from lingering.

All in all, a productive hour or so. Might get the chance to do it again before I have to head back to work Monday.