Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Fiddletown Project

The HOn30 Fiddletown & Copperopolis display for MiniTrains is complete and on its way to Germany. It took a year, part time, to build the display. Like most model railroads the structures were the most labor intensive.

The landforms were made from bead board. The crumbly white styrofoam that most scenery builders hate - I love the stuff. The rocks are thin sections of the Scenic Express foam rocks.

I'm putting together a construction article for the Gazette so you can read all about the construction process. So stayed tuned.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Fiddletown display

Here's today's look at the Fiddletown display. It's a 30" by 36" HOn30 model railroad. There are two loops of track - the bottom track is mostly hidden except where the train comes out to cross the bridges.

I still need to build a deck truss bridge for the upper track on the left side and finish wiring it. Having had a cold the flu all fall have slowed me down a lot!

Later this winter I'll post a little about how this was built.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tip of the week - cleaning brushes

I have of lot of expensive artists brushes that I use for model work. Some of these are over thirty years old. Over the years they've acquired a lot of dried paint build-up at the top of the bristles near the ferrel. The paint in the bristles has rendered many of the brushes useless for fine model work.

My solution to rejuvenate the brushes is to soak the bristles in 91% rubbing alcohol for several days. After the soak I scrub the brushes on paper towels to remove the softened paint and then I wash them in soap and water. The hardened paint is gone and the brushes, although not "new," are soft, pliable and ready to use.

Tip #2 - To prevent the paint from building up in the first place, always wet the bristles in water (or solvent, if you're using solvent-based paints) before sticking them into the paint. The wet brush will keep the paint from drying on the dry bristles in the middle of the brush.

I got this alcohol tip from an artist's magazine.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A cherry pie for charity

There's a charity in Maine that provides help to schools in the Freeport area. The name is "Painting for a Purpose." This year among other art projects the group is painting clock faces. The one I did is a cherry pie being invaded by ants. Mine is one of hundreds that will be sold at auction.
It's acrylic on a wood base.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fifty years and counting...

A friend is building a combination HO and HOn30 model railroad and he's decided to hand-lay the track. He has cut the wooden ties and was getting ready to color them when he noticed something was missing. It was the railroady smell you get when walking the tracks.

The smell is from creosote, the tie preservative. New wood ties are soaked in creosote under pressure to preserve them.

Over 50 years ago Tru-Scale offered real creosote tie preservative for model railroaders. I still have a can and remember using a little of it on a railroad I once built. 

Needless to say I gave the can to my friend so he can have a model railroad that smells like a real railroad.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mt Blue General Store

Bob Hayden built this Mt. Blue HO General Store kit. He substituted the Campbell shingles for the metal roofing provided. It'll fit right in on the new layout he's building.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

East Brewster, (Cape Cod) MA station on the New Haven

Check out the funky signal on the front of the station. I wonder how this worked? 

There doesn't seem to be anyway to change the color or location - there are no ropes or wires attached to the signal.

One of life's little mysteries...

Friday, July 4, 2014

The White Tower

Here's an O scale scene on a customer's High-Rail layout. All the structures are kit-built, and the people and details are off the hobby shop shelf. What I did to make this scene come alive was to add signs in the White Tower windows, a few posters, a weathered sidewalk, and the trash barrels. 

Now it's a place for your eye to stop and take-in all the details.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

O scale church with stained glass windows

Here's an O scale church I scratchbuilt for a customer in Massachusetts. I wanted the WOW factor and the only thing besides church bells ringing I could think of were illuminated stained glass windows. 

After a Google search I found the windows on-line in connection with the building plans for a protestant church yet to be built in the mid-west. I copied the file, resized it and then printed several copies on clear acetate. These were cut to fit and glued inside each window opening.

Next, I built a lighting grid so an LED would illuminate each window. I added a voltage regulator so I could power the lights with 16VAC.

The photos shows the illuminated windows as they would look at about dusk.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The littlest cod fish

I needed several cod fish to place in the bottom of an O scale rowboat. I saw several photos of fish online that looked as though they might work. I copied them, reduced their size, duplicated the image several times, and printed them out. Next, I glued the printout to a thin sheet of soft foam (made for the scrap-booking crowd) and coated the fish surface with Mod Podge to seal it. 

After the gloss medium dried I used a spade blade in an X-Acto knife to remove each fish. I thinned the back of the fins with the spade blade and then painted the edges of the foam gray. 

The last step will be to flex each little fish into a football shape and give them another coat of gloss medium. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

The 20 Mule Team

When I was a kid I watched Death Valley Days on TV. It was sponsored by a cleaning product called Boraxo. The main ingredient of the soap is Borax, a mineral mined in Death Valley, hence the name of the show. The soap is now called 
"20 Mule Team Borax."

The miners moved borax from the mine to the mill using a wagon train pulled by 20 mules. They needed all 20 mules to pull the two ore cars and a water wagon many miles across the rough and uneven ground of Death Valley.

If you saved the Boraxo box tops and sent them away with $.50 they returned to you a nice plastic kit of the 20 mule team (it is 1/67 scale) and ore cars. 

Some of the early kits also included a covered wagon, several miners and a cowboy on a horse.

I assembled and painted the covered wagon first, posed it in front of a calendar photo of Monument Valley, and took one of my first table top model photos. 

The plastic 20 mule team kit (minus the covered wagon) is still available through Mule Team kits for $24.95.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Revisiting the Grassmaster

I had the opportunity to use the Noch Grassmaster the other day to repair a small section of scenery on the Nantucket Railroad display. The repaired spot is in the foreground.

Several well known modelers have never had any luck using the Grassmaster and have been very vocal about their problems. They all said they can't get the grass to stand up.

I like the tool, get excellent results and use it all the time. It's always in my traveling scenery bag along with several sizes and colors of the Noch flocking. 

The trick seems to be to wet the area to be "grassed" with wet water, and then spray or drop on diluted matte medium (3 water to 1 matte medium). The Grassmaster likes a humid environment. 

Hold the grassmaster about 2 inches above the ground and gently tap on the side. The "grass" will sprinkle out and stand straight up in the wet medium. After it area dries you can brush your hand over the grass without dislodging it.

I never work more than a foot from the grounding pin and always install a fresh 9VDC battery about every six months.

BTW - The structures shown in this scene are all made from resin wood shingle wall castings and shingle roof castings. I use the MicroMark casting products and it's all explained in my Easy Casting DVD

Friday, June 13, 2014

Cactus Valley

Many years ago Model Railroader magazine asked me to build a project layout. They wanted something that would fit in a 4' by 8' space and be HO scale. I came up with the Cactus Valley. A railroad based in the southwest desert of the USA. It was fictional but the scenery was modeled after parts of Arizona and New Mexico.

The scenery was made entirely from insulating foam applied using spray cans. After the foam was blow in place and expanded, I carved it to the landforms and shapes I wanted using a serrated knife. The foam was coated and sealed with thinned dry wall mud and colored using acrylic paints.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Pippo's Hardware

I shot this painted sign on the back side of a hardware store in 1998. I was at the wrong angle and couldn't get in the right spot but I managed to straighten the verticals in Photoshop. 

The building was located just across the line in New York state close to Rutland, Vermont. This would make a great decal to add to a run-down brick structure on your layout.

Monday, June 2, 2014

More boxed diorama...

In the top photo is the cod box with the painted background in place. The background is 140 pound, cold pressed watercolor paper on which I painted this simple scene.

The bottom is a piece of pink Styrofoam carved to fit the row boat. The next step is smoothing the shaping the foam to look like water.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Boxed Diorama

I bought a box of dried and salted cod fish - called baccala by the Italians. It made a wonderful winter chowder. 

The fish was packed in a little wooden box with a sliding lid. The box was too nice to throw away so I decided to do something with it. Like most modelers I never throw anything away so the little box became the base of a boxed diorama. 

I left the box on a high shelf for several months so some of the "sea smell" would disappear. When I decided to use it I sealed it with several coats of clear satin varnish and painted the inside of the box white. I installed a watercolor paper curved background and painted sky and clouds on it.

In the box they'll be a stormy sea with this O scale 16' row boat (Atlantic Scale Modelers) being tossed by the swells. I need to modify the figure to look like a fisherman, make a few cod fish, and shorten the oars so they're the correct length. I'll have photos as I build.

Friday, May 2, 2014

More dinosaur scenery

To get the base ready for the tents I added "dirt" around the bones with sanded grout and earth-colored indoor wall paint. I also made a fairly flat area next to the track to put the base camp - this is where the tents will go. 

I've been gathering people to use as paleontologists - most will be repainted and repositioned. I also have a box full of props to be placed around the camp and the dig.

I used Siflor scraps (from Scenic Express) leftover from several projects to start the ground foliage. I made an ancient tree from sagebrush pieces. The tree is placed as if it fell, broke to half and then was covered with vines and growth. (My recollections of the original King Kong movie helped with the tree placement.) Next are the trees and shrubs and the scenery will be ready.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Making HO tents

I found a flat plaster casting containing some rocks and exposed dinosaur bones. It was something I bought many years ago at a train show. I must have purchased two because I added this same casting to the HO layout Bob Hayden and I built for Tokyo Disneyland back in 2000. 

I took the casting and glued it to a piece of 1/2" plywood and added a length of HOn30 track in the corner. I then colored the rocks, bones and earth with acrylic paint.

My plan is to have an archaeological expedition digging-up the bones. For this I needed tents to house the expedition.

For the tent "canvas" I needed a material that is shear enough to allow lantern light, inside the tent, to shine through. Bill Banta supplies roofing paper with some of his kits. It's meant to be used as model tarpaper. It's thin and has a see-though texture. I thought it might make a good tent canvas - the old fashioned heavy type that had the rough feel of sail canvas. 

From my youth I remember the canvas being gray to tan in color and always smelled of the tar-like "weatherproofing" that was painted on it. (I have flashbacks to my uncomfortable Boy Scout days trying to sleep in one of these tents while it was raining. You'd have a wet sleeping bag for a week.)

Anyway, I took Banta's roofing paper and laid it out on a towel and applied a thin wash of acrylic earth and black. I needed to paint both sides and keep brushing out the texture pattern made by the towel. After it dried I had my canvas as shown here. 

I built a bunch of cardboard frames for the tent canvas to drape over. These are 8' by 8' and 4' high at the knee wall in HO scale. These are not precision models as you can see but they will be covered so they're good enough. I painted the inside of each tent frame with a light earth-colored paint.

After the paint dried I smeared the frames with thin white glue and laid the canvas in place. 

I glued the cardboard frames to the canvas starting at the back. After the glue dried I cut-out backs and then draped the canvas over the sides and the top.

The last step was to glue on the front, make a slit in it, and then fold back the doors. I used a drop of glue to hold the doors back. Eventually there will be a cot and a table inside the tent.

Several of the tents will be used on the Fiddletown display as miner's lodgings.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fiddletown Staion

I finished this little Woodland Scenics station. It's close enough to the Fiddletown station to be used on my current project. This is a cast metal kit. All parts fit together with very little clean-up. 

I primed the parts with Krylon Camo Earth color and then brush-painted the trim with a medium gray. The roof was primed with Krylon Camo Brown and then dry brushed.

After assembly the whole building got a thin wash of raw umber to tone down the brightness. 

Inside there's a figure in every window, blocks of painted wood for furniture, and a small LED to light it up. I found I needed to add a cardboard ceiling inside to prevent light from spilling out from under the roof eves. 

This was fun to build and took about 4 hours total.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lighthouse lantern

I needed to build a half dozen lighthouses. The lantern (the part where the revolving light and Fresnel lens is located) is the tricky part. All the lights had to work and look realistic. 
I found a custom circuit that would allow an LED to pulse on and pulse off with a 3 second gap between the pulses. The circuit operated on between 9 and 20 V AC or DC - perfect for the auxiliary side of many train power supplies.

To hide the bright LED I used a piece of clear plastic rod. I drilled out a hole for the LED to fit in, and roughed-up the outer surface with fine sandpaper to diffuse the light. It works and looks nice.

BTW - I'm holding the top of the lighthouse with a paper cup - the wires can hang down through a hole punched in the top of the cup. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Water Tank part 2

I needed several little metal loops for my water tank and I happened to be in a friends fishing store. I asked if he had any tiny swivels. He did, they were in the junk box, and after rummaging around for a few minutes I found these. 

The wire loops are a little large for HO but if I paint them black no one will notice. I cut each swivel in half and got two loops. I used five on the water tank so that leaves me about 30 more for other projects.

Here's my little water tank almost complete. It still needs weathering and I'll do that just before I place it in the scene. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Fiddletown water tank

I needed a water tank that looked somewhat like the cartoon water tank in Carl Fallberg's Fiddletown & Copperopolis book. I didn't have a tank on hand but I did have some parts left over from an ancient project - a plastic water tank and roof. I think the parts are from Atlas. 

I used the cartoon as a guide to build the wooden supports and cribbing that hold the weight of the tank full of water. These were made from scrap wood and then spray painted with a Krylon Camo dark brown. The Camo colors dry dead flat and are great as a base color or primer for model builders.

The cartoon showed a shingled roof so the first step was to sand away the existing metal roof detail on the plastic roof and then shingle the roof. I used left-over scraps from Paper Creek and Wild West. They're slightly different colors so I washed the finished roof with a raw umber Apple Barrel acrylic color and then dry brushed with earth and then white. My goal was to blend the two different shingle colors into one homogeneous roof. 

The plastic tank was a brown color but I wanted it to be yellow. So I masked the roof and bottom timbers and airbrushed the tank a light yellow color. 

I'm almost finished with the spout detail and will post photos when done.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The village blacksmith

I found a box of Fine Scale Miniature castings I didn't know I had. So I went about painting them and adding several to this little Banta HO blacksmith shop. I had to scratchbuild the forge from a block of wood and some brick paper. I put a little LED in the forge to represent glowing coals. I had several painted tools left over from some long-ago and forgotten project so I added them in the corners. I should have added board ends and nail holes to the flooring - maybe next time.

For the exterior I colored the wood plank siding with some old Floquil Stains plus alcohol dye and India ink. The roof is Paper Creek printed tarpaper with the shadowing effect added using pastel chalks. 

The signs are from everywhere and they need more weathering to tone them down and make them look like they've been sitting in the sun for a decade. 

Most signs you find included with kits are way too big to look correct on a model - take the NOTICE sign on the front of the building. It would look much nicer at about half the size.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Building the wild west

These two western-style HO structures are going to be used on a new display I'm building. Both are Banta kits. Clark's on the top is just a barn-like structure with a false front. I added the plastic trim and roof supports to the front - these were salvaged from a structure I dropped. The two spaces between the trim will be covered with a sign.

The lower structure is a blacksmith shop. I'm going to add interior detail scavenged from several old FineScale Miniatures kits. The roofing tarpaper is from Paper Creek.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Old Paint

No "old paint" isn't the name of my horse, it's all the old bottles left over from other projects. Some go back to the days when model paint was actually affordable. 

You can see I opened the $1.69 bottle. The paint was still good so I used it on a project I was building. I mixed it with a little Roof Brown color to get a darker red. I thinned this with Diosol, the Floquil solvent, to make a stain. I broke the plastic inner seal that keeps the paint fresh. It was replaced with a small square of plastic cut from a sandwich bag.

I even found a bottle of Flo-Stain Driftwood, the elusive elixir used on a lot of FineScale Miniatures kits. The Driftwood was still good. I used one of the Micro Mark submersion mixers to get the stain back in usable condition.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Failed water

Here's a view of the diorama I scratchbuilt for the Model Railroad EXPO several years ago. The Mod Podge water in the rear under the arch was built on a scrap of Styrofoam. The foam is starting to outgas and is ruining the water. The water surface next to the building is okay because it was built on a square of plywood.

Here's an extreme example of failed water on an addition I helped build on an HO Pennsy layout. This is Woodland Scenic Realistic Water poured over a Styrofoam base. 

The foam base was painted with acrylic paints and then the water was poured on. In less then a month the bubbling started - small fizzy bubbles at first, and everyday there were more of them. Finally, after after about three months in looked like this - like the La Brea Tar Pits. 

From my experience I'd recommend not using any type of acrylic medium over a pink or blue Styrofoam base. I have not had problems using Gator Board.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The little bordello

I built this little one-room bordello from a kit made by Banta Models. I decided to decorate the second story bedroom with wallpaper, a rug, and some furniture left over from the days when I used to review such things for RMC. The furniture is from SS Ltd. - there's a bed, bookcase and a table. I added two HO figures looking out the front and back windows.

To see what's going on I placed a Evans Design pico LED to light things up. The LED is the size of a dot made by a pencil so it need some amplification. I glued a mirror to the underside of the roof to reflect the LED and increase the brightness. After all this is a bordello and you need a mirror on the ceiling!

I tested the LED. The roof is just set in place and the
trim, stairs and other details are not finished. I add a thin sheet of orange diazo film to the top part of the windows to warm-up the light.

Here's the finished bordello set along side several other structures that I've built in the past week or so.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Clever Models

I'm a big fan of Clever Models. They offer a wide variety of printed paper structures and printed textures in all scales. This is the little HOn30 display layout they brought to Springfield this past weekend. Everything on it is printed paper, ever the trains. It's very impressive. You have to touch the models to tell they are made of paper.

On this little display that I built for the EXPO several years ago everything left of the door is printed except the metal Dyna Models tuscan red metal window casting. I use the Clever products everywhere.