Wednesday, January 27, 2010


This past weekend I spent a little bit of time working on some structure kits. Mainly painting. Having insufficient funds to procure the amount of turnouts I need for the next phase of track laying, there’s not a whole lot I can do besides work on these old structure kits.

After doing some painting I decided that I would drag out the umbrella lights and take some nice pics (well, actually I got the lights out to take some pics of my Macs, but I digress).

Here’s the first building, very much a work in progress. It’s basically a little shop. It’s molded in brown, which I must say is a ridiculous color to mold things in. However, this may work to my advantage.


I’m trying to paint it a brick red color. I chose a dark red acrylic. I’ve been painting over the brown and finding the brown shines through a little bit, making a mud-brick look. I’m not exactly sure if I like it or not…will have to think about it.

The second building is one of Grandt Line’s “Company Houses.” It’s intended to represent the company-owned homes that were everywhere in the Appalachian country.


One thing I have learned is that macro photos certainly make all your blemishes stand out like a sore thumb! I clearly need to do some touching up with the paint on the edges of the roof and the foundation. I wasn’t exactly sure what color to paint the roof. It’s clearly made of wood shingles. If I had any, I would use some stick-on paper shingles. But I don’t, so I opted for a dark brown. You can still see the brush strokes, but I think with a little weathering chalk it will look fine.

Next on the to-do list is to install window “Glass” in all the windows and glue the entire thing together. I will probably come up with some sort of interior, too, so that when you look into the windows you actually see something—and not just out the other window.

While I’m on the subject of structures: I’ve realized that building structures is one of the FIRST things you should do when planning a model railroad, rather than the last. I suppose I first realized this by following and his layout builds. He always builds all the structures first. I’m quickly finding that this is the way it should be done.

When the structures are built first, you have something tangible to put on the pink foam plains, which helps with track design. You can plan out how you want a city or industry to look and design your track to fit it—rather than vice versa.

I suppose it’s more prototypical in some cases, as well. Industries, etc, may have already existed, and tracks were laid around it.

Clearly, then I have a lot of structure buying and building to do. Considering I’m broke and have no hobby shop locally…maybe I should give scratch building a try?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

As a child of the internet, I spend a lot of time browsing the web reading forums about my favorite pastimes. Right now, there are 9 tabs open in my browser, including a video game site, a Macintosh site, and two Model Railroad sites. It is suffice to say that I sometimes suffer from information overload—posts get skimmed instead of read. Topics that I might enjoy engaging in conversation over are skipped because I simply don’t have time to write a response—some other post on another site needs my attention.

There was a post on today, however, that really got me thinking. The “OP” (original poster, the person that started the topic) inquired as to how many layouts you had been through. In other words, how many layouts you had constructed and completely scrapped.

The answers were rather surprising, at least to me. Most people responded that they were on their 3rd or 4th layout. To me, that’s rather encouraging.

Oftentimes, this hobby can be intimidating for the inexperienced. The industry’s main publication, “Model Railroader,” has long been criticized for showcasing only “finished” layouts from modeling gods which the average person can never hope to match in quality and size. Internet forums have lessened this somewhat, but the quality of work shown on the “Weekly Photo Fun” and “Sunday Night Photo Fun” threads (at and the Atlas Forum, respectively) can often be intimidating in its own light.

So it was encouraging to hear that most everybody else had screwed up their first layout royally, too.

Myself, I’m on layout number 3…of the N-Scale variety, anyway. My first layout was far, far too big and far too ambitious. I bit off way more than I could chew. Of course, that was compounded by the problem that I only had about 2 years to work on it before I moved away to college. Lesson number one: Make it portable, because you never know when you might have to pick it up and move it.

Layout number 2 got me all the way through college. Looking back, it was a great learning experience. I think I’ve already recounted that here on this blog, so I won’t dwell on it.

As for layout number 3, well I’ve already hit many stumbling blocks. I guess the question is this: When you hit a stumbling block, do you continue on (often with a compromise), or do you tear it up and start over?

The responses in the Trainboard thread seemed to indicate that most other people follow my way of thinking: When I get stuck with something or it doesn’t turn out exactly the way I planned, I just keep on going. I’d rather not take the time to fix it if it means tearing up a lot of work in the process. Instead, I can file away that knowledge for future use—the inevitable layout number four.

I guess that almost sounds like you can settle for mediocrity, which is not exactly what I mean. But given the choice between spending hours ripping something up and re-doing it and just living with it (as long as it is not a show-stopper), I’d rather just live with it.

I’m don’t think I’ve really communicated my idea very clearly in this post…I will have to give it some thought and re-visit this topic in the future.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Swat. Swat. Cough. Oh! Hey there! Don’t mind me, I’m just dusting a little and sweeping away the cobwebs.

I see my last post was in June? Huh. Well, anyone that knows me at all shouldn’t really be surprised by this. I have too many hobbies, and my interests tend to ebb and flow like the tides. I lost interest in trains for a while—partly because I just wasn’t sure where to go next. Partly because Roswell reared its head and I got into VWs again for a bit. And partly because that’s just the way it is.

Anyway, in December, Baylor’s Mayborn Museum hosted their annual layout setup (mainly composed of Temple’s excellent “Centra-Mod” modular group). On one of the last weekends before Christmas, I made the trek out—camera in tow—and I’ll be damned if the bug didn’t bite me again.

(You can see my pictures from that event here. )

Reading over my older blog posts, I see that the last challenge I was concerned with was legs for the layout. That problem was solved thanks to my parents, who brought down the last remaining piece of my Dad’s old bedroom furniture, a triple dresser (solid maple). So now the layout rests on that, and I have storage in the drawers below for modeling junk and other assorted odds and ends.

So now that problem is solved, and I find myself wondering where to go next. All I have right now is a basic loop of track—the roundiest of “roundy-rounds.” I’ve debated for several months what I want the inside of the track plan to look like (track-planning in advance is certainly not my forte).

I’ve decided that I really want the ability to run two trains at one time, so there will have be an inner oval. I’ll likely have to use almost all 11 inch radius curves here—maybe a 19 in here or there. I think I have worked out that there will be an industry on the left side of the layout, and a city (possibly with a small yard) on the right. I don’t want to get too much going on in the middle to avoid the “spaghetti bowl” effect of having track everywhere.

So what’s next then? Saving money until I can afford to buy more turnouts. I think I’ll need another four for the inner loop, so that’s $60 right there. This is an expensive hobby.

In the meantime, I can work on structure kits that have been festering over the years. I’ve gotten half-way on a number of buildings, but I still don’t have any that I would call “complete.” Time to change that.

Finally, I went to the Waco Winter Wonderland trainshow this weekend. This show is always something of a crap-shoot. Sometimes they have tons of stuff. Other times, nothing. One year I didn’t make it back in town until Sunday, and the vendors had already packed up and gone!

This year I am happy to report that there was a good selection of vendors (for a Waco show, anyhow), and an excellent N scale modular setup all the way from Houston. Please visit Flickr to see my pictures.

I was really happy that the vendors were there. As I have recounted before on this blog, Waco’s model railroading selection just plain sucks. So very rarely do I get a chance to look at things in person. I was hoping to spend no more than $40. In particular, I was looking for laser-cut wood building kits. Unfortunately, no one had any of these. So I began looking at the other items available and walked away with some rolling stock and a locomotive for about $60.


First up: Micro-Trains 33’ Peaked-end hoppers, lettered for N&W. N&W had thousands upon thousands of these, and they are essential for anyone modeling the area/era. Unfortunately, not many manufacturers are making them. I bought a three-pack of Micro-Trains cars for $35, which I think is a very fair price (didn’t I tell you this was an expensive hobby?). I do wish the hoppers had coal loads, but what can you do? I’ll just have a string of empties.

I wish I could find a source for these that wasn’t so expensive. I’d like to have at least 20 on the roster. That’s $240. Go take a look at some of the coal trains running on the modular layouts at the train show. That probably represents $1000 or more. Crazy, isn’t it?

My second purchase was a Life-Like GP-18 for the low, low price of $27 after tax.

Life-Like GP18


Some background here: I’ve wanted a small diesel for a number of years. I love steam, but it’s nice to have some variety. The N&W was the last Class One railroad to diselize, in 1960. They used mainly Alco RS-11s and EMD GP7s and GP9s. (the family of which the GP18 is a slightly later model).

So I’ve been looking for some time for GP9 or GP7. The models I found were too expensive (that money could go to turnouts!), or in a much later paint scheme than what I was looking for. So I was elated when I found the little GP18 sitting at the dealer’s booth for only $24.95, in black liverly. I was skeptical, of course. $24 for a locomotive? Loco’s in N Scale are usually in the $70-$120 range. Still, I thought I remembered reading posts on the Atlas forum praising this cheap locomotive. So I bit the bullet.

Arriving home, I sat the loco on the track and slowly turned up the juice. Nothing. So I cranked up the power a little more, and suddenly she started forward. I think part of the problem is that this is a fairly old unit—likely made in 1993 or 1994, and thus it might have been sitting in the box for a long, long time. After several hours of break-in (both forward and reverse) I am very impressed by how she runs. For $27, it sure is a winner. There is a slight wobble at times, but slow speed performance is pretty good (good enough for me, anyway), and it goes around the track very smoothly. If this is what a cheap diesel will do, I can’t imagine a nicer Atlas or Kato unit. As a steam guy who is used to finicky steam locomotives, you diesel guys sure do have it nice!

One final little note on these: N&W used “High-Nose” GP-x models, which means the nose in front of the cab (the short side) extends all the way to the roof. Engineers often complained about visibility, so most railroads got the short nose versions. However, the N&W, being “different” as they always were, ran these locos with the long hood in the front! That’s right, the cab would be at the very back of the locomotive, with the extremely long hood sticking out towards the oncoming track. Supposedly, the reason this was done was that the N&W brass thought it would offer more protection in a crash. Personally, I think it was just another case of being stubbornly stuck on steam. With the long hood forward, the locomotive almost looks like some futuristic steamer, with a long boiler in front.

Anyhow, that’s where things stand today. I don’t make any promise of regular updates (I’m too smart to promise that!) but I will try to not let it go another 6 months!