Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Contemplative Process

As I forge ahead with my seemingly endless endeavor to rebuild my N scale empire, I'm discovering that the various phases of the project generally proceed along the same basic sequence.

First, I find myself standing in the train room, usually in my pajamas with a coffee cup in my hand, staring obliquely at whatever the current obstacle is that's confronting me. This process can be repeated for several days, or over the course of several weeks or even months. Usually these silent vigils take place in increments of about 10 minutes to an hour. It depends on how hungry I am.

During these periods, my mind will alternately slip in and out of gear. At the more productive moments, it's envisioning the finished scene, or the complex turnout linkage, or fully lit grouping of structures and vehicles. These thoughts are quickly replaced by a spell where I just stare blankly at the framework, as I go over the "to do" list that will be required to get from what I'm looking at right now, to what I fantasized about a moment earlier.

Next, I heave a sigh, scratch my head, then take a sip from my coffee cup, which has gone stone cold during the elapsed time.

If it's my day off, I may swing into action and start to tackle the list that will nudge me ever closer to the goal. This list may include actual model railroading activities, such as plugging in the soldering pencil, or moving some rolling stock out of harm's way, but usually it starts with such mundane activities as getting dressed so I can head out to the garage to find a piece of lumber or a box of screws. If my wife isn't home, I may bypass the whole getting dressed thing, and just put on my slippers for the trek across the driveway. (These are usually my least productive outings.)

The first trip to the garage is generally an assessment of the inventory at hand, which may lead to a safari to the lumberyard or hardware to fill in any missing gaps. There's so much stuff stockpiled, though, that this is rarely needed.

Returning to the train room, which is in the attic, a full three flights of stairs from the garage, I quickly realize that a critical tool or piece of material has been left down on the workbench. This scenario will be repeated throughout the day, and this constitutes the extent of my physical fitness regimen.

Another recurring theme in my layout construction is the law of "One Step Forward Requires Two Steps Back." This means that before any real forward progress can be recorded, some hastily concocted shortcut will have to be undone. Most recently, this involved the relocation of a turnout that I had installed to close up the long siding on the Connellsville Sub.

That's it there in the middle of the shot. When I did this, my main concern was keeping the turnout on the "fixed" portion of the layout, and not on the removable section I have to install in front of the window. I had neglected to verify that this location would provide the desired minimum train length of 30 cars, plus 2-3 locomotives and a caboose. Once the glue dried and everything was in place, I checked this, and was disappointed to see that I was stuck at around 28 cars.

I walked away, and resumed the ritual with the pajamas etc. for several weeks.

The other night, I resolved to work on the removable section, which involved re-working an existing module so that it would fit in the space, span the window, and provide the base elevations so I could make the final adjustments on the previous work, and set the grades for the sections beyond the window to the right. This was fun, and led me to a solution on the Connellsville Sub siding issue.

You can see the turnout will now appear on the removable section, which will require additional wiring connections, but I'll work that out. The worst part will be digging in to the old scenery, and making a hole in the plywood deck to make room for the Tortoise switch machine that will run the turnout. Not impossible, to be sure, but it will take a bit of head scratching.

So next time we chat, odds are I'll be in my pajamas clutching a coffee cup and staring blankly at a hole drilled in a bit of plywood.

And so it goes.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Holiday Progress

Here we are, the first post of the new year (2011). I was fortunate enough to have a few days off over the holidays, and took advantage of that time to press ahead with a couple of key projects. First, I continued to flesh out the scenery around Thomas, West Virginia, closing up the chasm between the yard there and the masonite fascia. This also included finishing out the base scenery along the Connellsville line on the lower level along the river bank.

This also involved completing the highway bridge leading out of Thomas. I used an old Atlas Warren Truss bridge as the basic component, and tricked it out with some Evergreen H beams and a styrene deck, then added some road striping with a yellow pencil. Finally, for the sake of the safety of my N scale motorists, I added some guardrails using Evergreen strip stock.

All that's left to do in Thomas is to construct the iconic brick station building, a couple of more company houses, and then work on detailing out the post and frame foundations. I have a stand in for the lumber mill operation, and a kit to bash to finish it, and of course, some trees, figures vehicles and so forth.

Next, I moved around the corner to start roughing in the framework for Cumberland, which will be my urban section. Since the benchwork is fairly deep at this area, I have to work from the back wall out, as I won't be able to easily reach the far sections once the mainline is installed through town. The Thomas Sub line to the helix runs behind Cumberland, and parallels my version of US 40 into the Narrows, a scene showcased in our last installment. Working forward from Route 40, I'm creating a typical highway commercial scene, replete with billboard signs, gasoline stations and fast food joints. So far things are just slapped in "for placement only" consideration, but I'll be refining this area in the coming weeks.

My time frame is around 1970, and I've been told that there wasn't a Pizza Hut in Cumberland until 1972, but I'll take that under advisement. The Pizza Hut got a "snow" job when I used it on a slap-dash Christmas Garden a few years ago, so I'll need to be repainting that. I'll also add some more details to the roof and landscape to make it look a little less Plasticville. Either that or I'll build a proper road side greasy spoon, but for now we'll stick with pizza. In the background you can see the larger buildings of Cumberland's main thoroughfare, Baltimore Street.

I'll be using some DPM structures, and kitbashing a few others to get the downtown feel here. I've also seen some Japanese Tomix buildings that look like they might work for the newer buildings that were constructed in the 1950's and '60's. We'll see what the budget allows for in the coming months.

As we proceed back toward the aisle, we pick up the segment of the mainline through town where the Western Maryland Station is to be located. I've been working on a scratchbuild of the station for some time, and this will give me the motivation to try to finish it.

The station scene will represent how the building looked in the early 1970's, with the middle platform removed. Baltimore Street crosses the tracks just to the left of the station, and there will be an interchange track for the B&O just to the right like the prototype. The panel in the foreground will be the stream bed for Wills Creek, which in this area is enclosed in a concrete flood control channel, as shown in the map below.
The challenge for me will be to patiently work on these background scenes and get them to a level of completeness so I can confidently finish running Wills Creek from the back to the front, and then install the remainder of the main line. Usually I'm too impatient to do things in the proper order, and I end up regretting it later. I'm already struggling with myself on this one, as I really want to get the track installed in front of the station. Somehow I'll manage, I'm sure.