Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Update: In transition.

Presently there are two Laurel Valley GP20's holding fort on the layout.  All of the other locomotives have been boxed up or sold.  The staging yards have been cleared out, the engine terminal is officially closed, and the lift bridge across the aisle has been permanently removed.  There's probably still about 200 freight cars scattered around the layout.  At some point I'll go down there and do a clean up detail to box up what's left.

I've started pulling some of the structures, some for re-use, some for sale.  At present, I believe I'll be using the Cumberland Station as the focal point of a OneTrak module following the BanTrak standards, and some of the other signature structures will be boxed up for further consideration.  Various scenic elements will also be salvaged as completely as possible, pending arrangements for reasonable storage.

Offers for various parts of the layout, assuming they can be salvaged intact, will be entertained.  It is possible to pull the yard in its entirety as a single unit, assuming it can be maneuvered down the stairs and out the door.  (It's 14' and change long x about 30")

The sections that can't be salvaged will be stripped of track and other valuable components, which will be set aside for future use or sold as needed.

The good news is that like my relationships with my kids and other people in my life, all of this is an opportunity for renewal. 

As has been previously discussed, there were many shortcomings that I discovered as construction and operations progressed, and I'm hoping some lessons learned should I ever feel compelled to take on such a large project again.

The biggest problem was my desire to fit 10 pounds of layout into a 5 pound room.  It would have been far more prudent, and probably in the end more satisfactory to acknowledge the limitations of the space available, and design something that was more manageable.  That would include time and budget, as well as construction and ops.

Anyway, I expect that by Spring 2013, the layout will be fully dismantled and dispensed with.  Going forward, I expect to continue to enjoy the hobby by helping out with the basement empires of a couple of close friends, possibly getting more active with the local N trak tribe, and at the very least, building dioramas to keep my fingers in the pie.

I'll also continue to write my N Scale Approach column for N Scale magazine, and I'll look forward to hearing from you about your model railroading projects.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

End of the Line

It's been several months since I last posted progress on the Western Maryland Western Lines layout, and simply put, there hasn't been much to post.

Sadly, I've reached a point in my life where I have to put the toys away, and re-think my overall approach to life.  In the last few months, my marriage of 27+ years has unraveled, mostly by my own efforts, but the details of that aren't important.

What is important is the realization that all of the time and effort that went into building the layout was spent at the expense of my family.  I had always prided myself that since I was a kid, I've always had something to run a train on.  I bought our house with an eye specifically on that grand attic room that held so many possibilities.  Mostly, it turns out, it became a place for me to hide from the grim reality that there were some major holes in my personal life.

I'm still very proud of the work that went into it, and all the recognition I've gained through my years of posting progress on the various internet forums, and my writings here and in print in N Scale Magazine.  In recent months, though, I was becoming more and more aware of the down side of having such a complex design.  Time spent on maintenance began to outstrip time spent enjoying the layout, parts of it that I really enjoyed building had become a bit dusty and tired, and it got to be harder to find the energy to commit to renewing things and putting right the things I knew were wrong.  Quite frankly, I was thinking seriously about giving up on it for some time, and seeking out something a little simpler and more satisfying.

There's a life metaphor in there somewhere.

As of this writing, the layout still stands, fully populated with numerous trains.  Thousands of dollars of rolling stock, locomotives, structures and details, all sitting dormant in a dark room in a house I no longer live in.  My son doesn't want me to remove it, at least not yet.  He doesn't show much interest in operating it anymore, but I suppose it gives him a reminder of the time he and I spent in there.  He's now 16, so he'll only be around for a short time longer.

Maybe there will be an opportunity to have the guys over one more time to run a few trains, but I have a feeling the next time the crew comes down to Cambridge, they will be wielding sawsalls and wire nippers; storage tubs and bubble wrap.

I don't know if I'll ever attempt to undertake such a fully operational model railroad again.  Sharing a small house with a roommate means it certainly won't be happening in the near future, and a desire to get out and live life more fully means that time for such an effort will be limited.  Fortunately I have several good friends who have been able to balance life with their layouts, so I'm sure I can always find time to grab a throttle and a handful of car cards.  I'll also be glad to lend a hand to install a few switch machines or some scenery.

But I need to streamline my own life, scale it back, and make sure that I'm working as hard at making my life, and the lives of those I love, as satisfying as my experience with the layout was.

So if anyone wants to own a chunk of the Western Maryland, let me know.  I could probably use the money.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

More than I can chew?

It's been a little over a month since I really spent much time working on the layout.  Yes, it's spring, and many of life's distractions tend to crop up this time of year.  Things like peeling paint on the house, yard work, and given my occupation in the building materials business, work work.

But I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed again when it comes to this little project that I've been working on for lo these many years.  Sure, I'm making gradual progress building scenery, and there's always a twinge of excitement when I add a new piece of rolling stock, but right now, there's just something missing.

I suppose one of the shadows cast over the layout right now is a feeling that it will simply never be done.  Not in the sense that there is always going to be a little project here or there to tinker with or update...  But the whole thing will just never be in a state of completion.  There's a growing list of wiring issues, there's the whole urban landscape in Cumberland to engineer and install...  After close to 7 years, some of the earlier installations of track are starting to show their age.

The design is still satisfactory, the operation scheme is sound (although I'm still waiting to feel "ready" for a full on ops session - I built the yard going on 3 years ago, and the guy that's supposed to be my yard master has yet to see it in person), and I'm generally happy with the results of what I've done so far scenically.  But man.  All those trees I need to do!  All that track that needs cleaning after laying dormant for months at a time!  All those locomotive wheels that need burnishing!

It's enough to make one's head spin.

Perhaps it would be easier to deal with if I lived a little closer to the core group of guys that I operate with.  As noted previously, I'm a good two hours away from just about everyone in my crew.  I understand the challenge of getting down here, because it's a challenge for me to make the sessions that take place in Baltimore.  We've all got other things to do.  This compounds my frustration, because I feel like if they're going to make the trek down here, I have to have everything in tip top shape, adding pressure to get those electrical ghosts busted, or that odd piece of fascia cut and installed.

So I close the door, crack a beer, and turn on the ball game.

I've got a small group scheduled to visit on Sunday afternoon, and I'm in no way ready to run a full schedule of trains, but it will still be nice to have them over, maybe have some help getting a few things done, and otherwise pal around for a few hours to get the train room feeling a little more like an escape instead of a mandatory chore.

Or maybe we'll discuss how the damn thing can be dismantled and sold for parts.  Nah.  Before I know it, fall will be back and I'll have the itch again.  As much work as the layout can be, at least it doesn't have any hard and fast deadlines.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Farewell to the Atlas Forum

With the announcement that Atlas Model Railroad Co. will be shutting down its widely popular internet forums, I can't help but reflect on what an impact that particular discussion group had on my participation in the hobby.

The first project I posted on the Atlas Forum at any length about was the Chaffee Branch, which was supposed to become a part of my final layout design.  The forum challenged me to build better models, take better photos, and put a lot more thought into what I was doing.

As work on renovating the train room commenced, I switched my focus to the "Temporary Rig" layout, a simple 3' x 8' test bed that kept me entertained for a couple of years.  Looking back at that work, I can see how much my work needed improving.

Concurrent with that, I began constructing the Maryland Junction section of what would become the current permanent layout out in the garage.

After boring you all to tears with the glacial progress, I finally had the train room done, and was ready to move the work upstairs...

Gradually, from this chunk of foam and lumber, the layout grew into a functional model railroad, although a lot of it was still temporary construction, due to the fact that my son shared the room with me for a few years...

Note the twin bed and the tasteful Ravens banner over the yard lead...

Still, it was fun to have a few guys over to run trains and drink beer, most of whom were encountered here on the Atlas board.

Ultimately, the boy moved into other quarters, allowing me to finally build out the footprint that I had designed almost 7 years earlier...a task which has kept me occupied for almost three years now.

Along the way, I got to share the experience with some truly gifted modelers, and some genuinely awesome people.  Many of whom I'm proud to call friends...

with Randy Gustafson (Randgust) and Brian Carhart (RockGP40).

with Dr. Dave Vollmer

with Bernie Kempinski

with Max Magliaro and Jerry Britton

with David K. Smith, Dave Foxx, Phil Hoffman (KCSphil) and Tim Alder (sizemore).
with Dave Vollmer, Eric White (eric220), Ed Kapuscinski, Bob Bufkin, and Carl Tweedale...
I could go on...

The friendships I've developed starting from the Atlas board and on to the other lists I hang around on, have been extremely valuable to me both as a model railroader, as well as personally.

There have been some mighty good seeds sewn in the fertile soil Atlas provided. I think we'll see the quality of work, both by the manufacturers and by us, continue to improve and increase thanks to the community that was fostered on the A-Board.

 Atlas spawned most of the other on-line groups by being so open to the discussion of so many things.  The very notion that we could critique any manufacturer's goods, including their own, with such abandon was astounding.

For a long time, before we all started to migrate to our own modeling strata, Atlas was the go-to place for straight talk about the hits and misses of pretty much every product imaginable. 

Would Atlas be doing add on parts and lower ride heights without the forum?  Would ESM, Fox Valley or Exactrail be hitting the markets they're now hitting without the threads on Atlas that pushed the envelope?

While it's true we had our Skip, Fran AND Fun on Atlas, we also had Max Magliaro and Randy Gustafson, both of whom are outstanding modelers and problem solvers.  It will be interesting to see how the groupings work out as people look for other opportunities to share genuinely useful information and techniques.

I haven't spent much time on there in the last year or so, but there's no way I'd be doing the level of work I try to do now were it not for the Atlas Forum.  Godspeed, and I hope to see some of you out there in the ether somewhere.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rome Revisited

Back in November I posted about the long journey that has been subjected to my model of the Cumberland, Maryland WM depot, which had languished for more than half a decade while I sputtered along doing other things.

Well, I'm happy to report, it's getting very near completion.  If you've been following along at home on the Railwire, or any of the other on-line street corners I hang out on, I apologize for the repetition.  But here's a brief history of the project.

First off, in 2000, I traded in all my dreams of a 1970s era Conrail layout for an Atlas Western Maryland SD35.  As validation of that decision, in January of that year, Model Railroader Magazine published plans for the WM's Cumberland depot, and in N scale, no less.  Immediately I began doodling a track plan that would require the services of this venerable old stack of bricks.

In 2003, I bravely filled a cart with brick sheet from Plastruct, and photocopied the plans several times to create cutting templates.  I busily scribed and snapped out dozens of window openings, then brick pilasters, and finally, glued together a stack of Evergreen Styrene strip to piece together the distinctive cornices of the building.  In addition to the MR drawings, I had a couple of old photos I had taken while in The Queen City back in 1989.  A few evenings and several #11 blades later, I had come up with this:

I had the exterior walls assembled, built a dormer and a chimney, and even the nifty vestibule from the waiting room to the platform.  I shot it all with a color that I thought was pretty good, then put it all aside to work on other projects on the layout.

Long story short, I went to retrieve it from the storage box I'd put it in, since I was now getting to the point where I was going to be ready to install the station on the layout.  As discussed in November, the windows were a big hang up.  After a couple of conversations on-line, and couple of files sent back and forth via email, the problem was solved by Rob Madson (a.k.a Lord Zox on the 'wire) who was just then tinkering with a Silhouette SD digital cutter.  He created beautiful windows from cover stock, in full color, no less, and self-adhesive!  It was a brilliantly simple solution to a problem that had dogged me for years.

I quickly had the exterior walls finished with the windows, then turned my attention to installing some interiors and LED lighting, which ended up taking a couple of weeks.  The interiors ended up being pretty elaborate, made necessary by the large windows.  The station would occupy a prominent location, highly visible from the aisle, so all that glass demanded to be fed with interior details.  Using some scrap styrene vertical window blinds, I whipped up a series of partitions based on the floor plans from the MR drawings, aided by a digital copy of the building's original blueprints.

In addition to wanting to show off something through the windows, I needed to repair some pretty serious warpage that had taken place while in storage.  The full wall to wall floors helped pull the walls back under control.  With the interior partitions situated, I made with the soldering pencil, and started adding lighting.

While I'll never win any awards for neatness, I was pretty happy with the results.  By poking the LEDs for the first floor through the ceiling, I had the anodes and cathodes sticking up far enough above the second floor ceiling that all the wiring could be confined in the attc, keeping that colorful rat's nest out of the view shed of the interior.  When I had it all rigged up, I dimmed the lights to see what I had...
At this point, I felt like I was on to something.  Gradually I added the last few major details, including the roof...
And the platform:
Then I got stuck again.  Dormers.  There are a dozen dormers on the roof of this thing.  Years ago, recall that I had build up a dormer, well, the face of the dormer anyway, and then set it aside.  It wasn't a bad little dormer, in fact, it looked mighty good!  But the idea of building a dozen of them from scratch was indeed a daunting consideration.
There are no fewer than 25 separate pieces used to construct this dormer.  Scratching them all out was out of the question.

Resin casting seemed like a logical thing to try.  I had bought a resin casting kit some years ago in anticipation of this very project.  But alas, time had taken its toll on the kit, and all of the resins and mold making material had long since turned to rock.  Once again, one of my colleagues on the Railwire, David K. Smith, provided the solution.  I sent the master dormer I had built up to NZT Products' world headquarters, and a few days later, I received a package in the mail that contained 12 perfectly identical dormers, sloped at just the right angle to give the roof its signature appearance.

 Now I was in the home stretch.  I painted up the dormers, finished the chimneys, and built up the shed roof over the platform, and finalized the installation of the interior exterior lighting..
Finally, I positioned it on the layout, and popped a couple of pictures.
Now I'm freed up to work on the details around the station, including the dramatic flood control channel of Wills Creek directly in front of the station.

So anyway, I'm happy to report to you that I've finally finished a project!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Living in the Modular Age...

So I picked up some of Walthers' N scale modular bits and pieces that were being clearanced out at $2.99 a pack.  These have been out for a while, so I'm sure more accomplished modelers than I have already commented on these kits, but having recently completed a structure using them, I feel the need to publish a couple of observations.

First, I should clarify that over the years that I've built a number of structures using Design Preservation Models' modular wall system, and despite the limited variety that's offered, I've had a lot of fun working with it.  Here's a couple of modest examples:
The commissary at the west end of Ridgeley Yard

The Westvaco Paper Warehouse at Luke

The Department of Public Works at Ridgeley

Hudson Motors Assembly Plant office, Delmarva Model Railroad Club

...among others.

Generally, the parts need a little work to put them together, but they're certainly "vanilla" enough be adapted into a variety of situations.

I think the size of the panels, the brick pilasters used to join them, and the variety of window/door arrangements are at the very least adequate.  The main feature I've come to appreciate, though, is the spacing of the loading dock doors.  Run in a simple alternating pattern, you can line up 40' boxcars and align them to the loading doors without uncoupling the cars.

So let's take a look at the Walthers' Modular system.
Again, there's a reasonable variety of doors and windows, but I can't help but wonder if they didn't design these things to be used by HO modelers.  The windows are modeled as double hung (top and bottom sashes that slide up and down in tracks along the side) but they're enormous.  The doorway openings are excessively tall, and even with the transoms, the doors appear much taller than they need to be.

While it's not unusual for a brick industrial building to have larger windows, they're not typically going to be double hung windows.  You'd be more likely to find large steel framed fixed windows, perhaps with a smaller section that's hinged so it can provide ventilation. This would be a more typical arrangement, shot in Columbia, Pa:

These are clearly double hung windows, but they measure approximately 3 feet wide by 6 feet tall, compared to the Walthers' windows, which tip the scales at a whopping four feet wide by 9 feet high.  Now, back in the day, I worked in a huge loft industrial building in Baltimore, which sported large banks of 4' x 8' double hung windows, three windows across.

The Candler Building in Baltimore

... But there were a LOT of them...and the building was HUGE and constructed in poured concrete with a "curtain wall" exterior, in other words, the outside wall isn't a load bearing wall (other than bearing its own weight).  The design used by Walthers', as well as by DPM, features individual windows with large expanses of brick and pilasters, which is more indicative of a load bearing wall, where the exterior wall is carrying the weight of the floor systems, roof system plus whatever's sitting on them.  From an engineering standpoint, this type of architecture is limited in how high it can be built, so I always gasp when I see model building stacked to 15 or 20 stories, because it just doesn't look right.

The dimensions between the floors of the modular kit are also a bit suspect.  While the first floor of a brick industrial structure will typically be 14 to 18' to accommodate trucks backing into the loading docks, and 20' to account for freight cars on an interior siding, the upper floors drop back to a lower height, perhaps 10 to 12 feet.  Walther's maintains the same floor heights all the way up, making the building more massive than might be realistic.  This is due to the interchangeability of the wall panels to serve as any floor's exterior.  DPM solved this problem quite simply, but it plum evades Uncle Wally.

I don't like the way the wall segments are broken down.  There are double wide sections offering dual windows on either side of a cast in brick pilaster, but no arrangements that are two stories tall.  Therefore, when you combine sections to make a two story (or more) building, you're going to have a lot of horizontal seams that you have to deal with.  (DPM provides 2-story upper walls, eliminating this problem, and the single story sections designed for your first floor feature some brick trim across the top to justify the break in the brick work.)

While the pilasters provided are cleverly designed to help lock the wall sections together, like the wall sections themselves, these parts only rise one story tall.  This leaves the modeler with even more horizontal joints in the brickwork that are a little trickier to line up and disguise than they need to be.  A trim set providing two story pilasters would allow for faster assembly, and also would strengthen the overall construction by spanning the joints in the walls.

I'm not crazy about the two cornices that are offered, either.  The peaked one just doesn't look right to my eye, and ends up creating a building that screams out "I built this with the Walthers' Modular System" more than it says, "Yeah, that's a plausible big industry".  I also don't like the angled brickwork that runs up the gables.  I'm sure this condition exists somewhere in nature, but I feel like a stepped parapet, or some other "false front" treatment would be more generic when it comes to masking a pitched roof.  The straight sections are nice, but there aren't enough of them in the kit if you're going for a large building, especially one that's not a background flat.  Same goes for the single story pilasters.  I used the system to build a flat behind my station, and came up two pilasters short.  DPM gives you an abundance of joinery in their offering, which again adds flexibility in terms of how you "cut up" your facades.

The unpainted structure behind the Cumberland Station is (obviously) whipped up from Walthers' Modulars.

The big killer, though, is the loading doors.  Since the architecture featured has the appearance of an early to mid 20th century building, you'd expect the doors to be logically spaced to receive 40' boxcars.  No dice.  If you put the loading doors, which are single wall sections, side by side, they're way too close together, and if you hop scotch them with brick blanks, they're too far apart.  They're too far apart for 50 footers, too, so pretty much anything you roll up to the loading docks is going to have to be uncoupled and spotted at the doors.  Not too big an inconvenience, I suppose, just one more thing on the stack of other small things that I regard as shortcomings of this system.

Now, just to prove that I can be a little bit fair minded, I'll say I really like the brick detail in the walls, the interlocking pilasters are a neat trick (although I'd like it better if they had some 2-story pilasters), and the system can work well for a large industrial complex, which Walthers has shown through the various industry kits they offer that utilize the system.  I also like that the system is cast in a reasonably opaque material, since I like to install interior lighting.  Although, all the joints and seams that result from the assembly design create a little more work when chasing down light leaks...  It should also be noted that the roof detail kit offered in this line is outstanding, with a variety of vents, tanks and equipment that really enhances the typical "top down" view most of us have when operating our trains.

I guess the biggest beef I have with the Walthers' system is that for all its various parts, it lacks the flexibility that is offered by the less extensive line provided by DPM.  With its giant windows, multiple small parts, odd door spacing and tall upper floors, you don't want to crowd too many of these together.  The parts also don't lend themselves to other types of buildings, such as offices near the factory, or structures you might find in a downtown area.  Also, lacking compatibility with other kits make the parts harder to kitbash into other configurations such as I've enjoyed doing with DPM parts.

I'm sure I can find other things to make with this system, but I'm afraid the attempt to make it too interchangeable makes it less flexible for multiple uses on a single layout.  The proportions seem to lend themselves to larger industries, but using the tiny sections to create a massive building would be time consuming and potentially maddening, and without using some additional bracing, it would end up getting wavy due to all the joints in the walls.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Test Bed

Innovation comes when ideas can be played out in real time to determine what's practical and where the limits of that practicality might be.  My gradually evolving scenery work for the City of Cumberland on the layout is based partly on experience gained on previous layouts, but also on some experimentation with new techniques on other parts of the layout.

For instance, having been traumatized as a child by a complex day/night lighting scheme on our Christmas Garden, devised by my overly artistic father and my diabolically technical older brother, I can't accept a cityscape that doesn't include a vast array of lighting.  When the room lights go down, the city streets have to be properly lit, buildings should have the appearance of being "lived in", and generally, the skyline should attract "oohs and ahhhs" from onlookers.

No, it's not enough for the headlight of a train to wash over the landscape as it passes.  There has to be more.

In the past, I've lit my scenes as cheaply and easily as I could, using old strings of Christmas lights snipped apart and wired into a 12 volt circuit supplied by the power pack.  Exterior lighting was provided by commercially available streetlights, purchased when funds allowed, or salvaged from older layouts.  The look worked, but often suffered the pitfalls one generally encounters when dealing with incandescent lights.  Heat would build up, bulbs would burn out, and there's always the issue of size....  When I built this switch tower, for instance, all I had at my disposal was an old street light which used grain of wheat bulbs...
Not too bad in a dusky setting, but when the house lights come up...
... well, let's just say there have been a few prurient jests from the operating crew...

Recently, however, I've discovered the joys of LED lighting.  I've been putting LEDs into locomotives for a few years, and I've read with interest about other uses for them.  I even experimented with lighting a round house I was building using old LED light boards pulled from locomotives I'd installed DCC into.  I generally liked the results, and started looking for ways to do more.  When I discovered a good source to purchase large quantities of them on-line for a very reasonable price, I decided to finally take the plunge.  The first thing I dabbled in was simple interior and exterior lighting for the back shop building at Ridgeley.

I strung a couple of bare wires through the rafters inside the building, and drilled some holes over the roll up doors, soldered a few connections, and bingo.

But an urban setting needs more finesse than a big old shop building.  Exterior lighting consists of small fixtures next to doorways, lampposts with relatively small globes or overhead "cobra" street lights.  Interior lighting has to be softer, and some rooms should appear to have no lights at all.  Then there's all those other lighting situations, such as bill boards, alleys, passenger platforms, and more.

LEDs are available in a variety of sizes and colors, including the latest surface mount types, which are absolutely tiny.  I haven't started working with these yet, but I'm keen to try.  In the mean time, I'm using 3mm and 1.8mm sizes in a couple of colors with a fair amount of success.  I also accidentally purchased 100 5mm super bright white LEDs, which have worked out in a couple of situations.

The first project I tackled using this variety pack was the freight terminal for Cumberland.  Its location under a highway bridge gave me an excuse to go a little overboard, since it both needed a little extra lighting to get noticed, but it's out of the way enough that if I didn't like it, I wouldn't have to see it much.  Anyway, here's how it ended up:

I used 1.8mm for the exterior light fixtures to represent soda-vapor lamps, the interior of the main warehouse is some of those 5mm uber brights, which has a bluish cast similar to fluorescent lights, and a 1.8 mm white is in the office annex.
You can also see two exterior lights on the rear of the building in white.  These will wash the background buildings as well as illuminate the track-side of the warehouse.  You can see two pairs of old code 80 rail running front to back.  These carry the juice, as well as the roof structure.  The lighting is all tied to a "pigtail" made from phone jack cord with a modular plug at the end.  The idea is to be able to unhook the power to lift the building out, should it need to be repaired at the work bench.

This project gave me the confidence to try my hand at a more conventional city building, but I'm not quite ready to start building the downtown blocks in Cumberland.  This will involve some other techniques I've developed for creating a realistic urban landscape on a hill, which we'll discuss later.  So I looked across the room to the little section along the wall I call Greenwood.  There will be a cluster of small town buildings here, and they will make an ideal test bed for some of my lighting ideas.  Let's take a look.

I started with the DPM building that I modified to resembled the fabled "Hard Hat" bar in Newport, PA.  I wanted to realistically light the bar area like the smokey dive that it is, as well as a couple of apartments upstairs.  Street lighting was also going to be tricky here, given the close quarters I was working in.

Using a smattering of LEDs, I think I have the inside and outside done to my satisfaction.  First, let's look at the front side.

The streetlight is a 1.8mm yellow LED that I filed down to be shaped more or less like a cobra head lamp mounted on a pole.  If you look closely, you'll see that I simply used the anode and cathode of the LED to form the arm that extends over the street.  They actually extend past the pole and into the building, where thay are wired in to the building's lighting circuit.  I painted the extension between the wall and the pole black to minimize the attention they get.  To get the streetlight to look more realistic, I painted the top and sides of it with black paint, then over that I brushed a coat of silver acrylic paint.  This eliminates light leaks from the top and sides, and reflects all of the light down to a pool on the pavement.  I used a blue 1.8mm LED in the upstairs apartment to give the effect of a TV running, probably with the Late Show on...

Around back, I wanted to make sure the Hard Hat's patrons would feel safe walking past the alley, so I added a wall mounted fixture over the kitchen door.

The building behind it represents a business that might not be open as late as the bar is, so the lighting is dimmer inside, accomplished with those dreadful amber light boards from older Life Like locomotives.  They're perfect for this application, though.

So, I'm now pretty satisfied with the method and outcome of lighting structures with LEDs.  Next step will be to do the secondary benchwork to support the several blocks of Cumberland, and get started on arranging the structures.  Stay tuned!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Real Estate Market Heats up in Cumberland...

That title ought to drive the search engines a little nuts...
I'm starting to get excited about building out the Cumberland section of the layout.  Urban scenery presents a fair amount of challenges, and for me one of those is getting some unique flavor out of the buildings.  Design Preservation Models and Walthers Cornerstone are good models to start with, but frankly, I get weary of seeing the same buildings on everyone's layouts...  You can personalize them a little with some paint and other details, but the variety has become a little limited, especially if you're planning a reasonably large urban area.

Fortunately, over the years, I've never thrown anything away.  I've done a lot of kitbashing, so there's gobs of leftovers, everything from whole wall sections to sprues of windows and doors.  I also keep a good stock of strip and sheet styrene, so in a pinch, I can fabricate whatever I might need.
So I dove head first into the parts bin... and came up with this:

I should first explain that I had some help from my friend Paul Hutter, who lives in Cumberland, and who went on a mission to get some pictures of buildings along Baltimore Street, the old main drag through town.  He provided some outstanding examples, several of which are far beyond my modeling capabilities...  But with a little smoke and mirrors, and plenty of stuff accumulated over decades of model railroading, I don't think I'll have a problem breaking up the monotony of the usual DPM parade...

Downtown Cumberland has some magnificent examples of late 19th/early 20th century architecture, and many of the main street buildings are very well preserved.   Here's the pair I'm simulating...
Baltimore Street, Cumberland, Maryland.  Photo by Paul Hutter

I love the faux stonework on the one on the right, and the bold arch of the hobby store building is awesome.  I'll be trying to get the flavors closer as I paint and further detail the buildings, but obviously, I'm not trying to build inch for inch replicas.  While DPM structures are pretty versatile, they're also quite "vanilla".  While they offer several footprints, and a some halfway decent larger buildings, the window patterns, the details and the overall styles of the models are pretty similar.   Like today, architects of that era often pulled their details from a catalog, so in a sense, this approach can be prototypical.  But in larger towns that found themselves in a "boom" of prosperity, you'd be more likely to find the kind of bold architectural statements such as the ones shown above.

Anyway, I scavenged parts for a couple of kits, rounded up some DPM modulars for the side walls, and otherwise filled in textures and shapes to get close to the flavors shown in Paul's shot.

I'm still working on them both, I'll come back and drop in a more finished view when they're ready.

Bear in mind that my main street will be about 3' long, so there will be quite a clutter of buildings once it's done.  My goal is to do a couple key buildings that capture the essence of Cumberland's streetscape, then use the usual suspects to fill in the blanks.

I'm giving most of the attention to the facades, because as you can see, the buildings are pretty much cheek by jowel.  These will back up to the curved skyboard that encloses the Thomas sub helix, and will be placed closer to the rear of the scene.  I like their three story elevations, and the arched windows.

To make the facades, I started with half of an old Heljan engine house to get the big single arch.  I clipped out the pockets designed for the door "hinges" and simply shortened the opening as such.  I used the doors to build up the arched windows, adding some strip styrene to fill in the gaps.  A couple of Gloor Craft dual windows sufficed for the second floor.  The first floor is all scratched out of strip styrene, with a couple of door and window frame castings to finish it out.  I used DPM Modular walls cut in half to make the side walls, and blank sheet styrene to make the unseen rear of the building.

I just started the second building this evening, but I'll be adding the storefront next chance I get.    You may recognize the twin arch windows as coming from the back wall panel of the Walther's Union City Roundhouse.  (Recall that I accumulated about a half dozen of these kits to build the bones of my 22 stall roundhouse at Ridgeley, so odds are, you'll be seeing these windows again!)

There are several "signature" buildings on the street that I want to include, which will help viewers familiar with Cumberland to feel at home.  This big bank building, for instance:

Photo by Paul Hutter

Having the first floor squared and the remaining stories rounded on the corner make this immediately stand out.  It will be fun to experiment with different materials to see if I can get that effect to work in N scale.

Another would be Peskin's, which I assume was a department store.  The variety of window styles, and the big Art Deco sign board give evidence of both the building's original vintage as well as one of its commercial revivals.

Photo by Paul Hutter

The more modern buildings to the left and right will add more authenticity to the scene.  Afterall, a downtown isn't a static thing.  There are always buildings being built, torn down or remodeled as the fortunes of the neighborhood ebb and flow.  My 1970 era could be considered the end of the mid century boom for Cumberland, but before the hard times that followed the closure of several major employers later in the decade.

I'm looking forward to working with the Townbuilder Series from NZT Products and Stonebridge Models.  It will be nice if they move beyond the plain vanilla styles offered by DPM and Walthers, and provide us with some more interesting downtown buildings for our towns.  Afterall, in our smaller scale, we have room for a wider variety of buildings.

That is all for now...