Trolley Modeling in N Scale

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Electra under Cover ~ Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's been quite a few years since I've been to Travel Town, a railroad museum in Los Angeles's Griffith Park. (Here's the LA Park Department's official Travel Town page, and here's one for the Travel Town Museum Association.

Travel Town is basically a static display of old equipment, mostly steam engines, some heavyweight passenger cars (which can be rented out, as my wife did once to throw me a surprise party--thanks Hon, that was awesome!), a some narrow gauge cars, and a few pieces of traction equipment, such as the Electra:

This little steeplecab has a bit of history; it started life on a Northwestern Pacific predecessor in Marin County, and spent its latter career on the PE. In 1906 it did a stint in San Francisco hauling trains of rubble.

(Image from the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library)

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A Seasonal Item to Stock Up On ~ Saturday, December 24, 2011

I'm planning to add lights to buildings on my layout soon. An article in the December 2010 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman (about building and lighting a sandhouse) recommended "warm white LED" Christmas lights, like these

with a 9v source and 300Ω resistors, for a warm incandescent light effect. I'll give it a go. I think one box ought to last for a year's worth of model-lighting projects!

LEDs tree lights come in standard ("icy") white too. Those might work for well-lit modern scenes (station platforms, for example).

If you want to try this, make sure to pick up a string of lights fast, or you'll have to wait til Christmas 2012!

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Sprinter ~ Wednesday, November 02, 2011

This August (sorry to get behind in my posts) Wini's Ice Theater team took part in the 2011 State Games of America, in which thousands of young athletes converged on San Diego. The ice theater part of this even took place in Escondido, the eastern terminus of San Diego County's new Sprinter Diesel Light Rail line.

The western end of the line is the Oceanside Transit Center,

connection with AmTrak Pacific Surfliner, Coaster, and a block from the beach.

Nathan and I made as many trips by Sprinter as we could.

He really liked watching them, too.

And face it, that's a nice looking train. Those are Siemens Desiro's, which come in both Diesel and Electric versions, and run in many countries; in the US, they also run on Austin Capital Metro.

The Sprinter maintenance shop building, or "barn" as old-fashioned fans call'em, is in Escondido.

It has a few unusual features that seem to suit the inland Southern California climate well: a bank of solar panels, and fairly successful vegetable garden, with bean vines spilling over into the fence.

The Sprinter line runs on a Santa Fe (well, now BNSF) branch that still has a few freight customers. Freight trains run at night, after Sprinter shuts down. The Desiros are "non-FRA-compliant", which basically means they are not built to withstand a collision with a freight train, so this "temporal separation" is a legal safety requirement. Using this freight line for a right-of-way gives Sprinter somewhat more rustic scenery than the typical urban light rail line.

As far as the "business" part of the trip goes, the ice theater team's performance was a hit, winning first place.

(These photos by Wini's cousin Anna, who is an excellent action photographer).

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Firenze ~ Saturday, September 03, 2011

I recently attended a professional conference in Florence, Italy--a beautiful city with famous cultural attractions, like this, stunning views, and renaissance architecture. Sure, I like all that, and between lectures about new developments in speech recognition, I also made sure to sample local cuisine (everyone asks about the pizza, but the ice cream is not to be overlooked--and nobody looks askance at a grown man walking around with an ice cream cone in Italy, either).

But I was really looking forward to checking out Florence's brand new tram system. Here's an official site of ATAF, Florence's transit agency, but here's a more informative tram-fan site, and here's the Italian Wikipedia page about Tranvia di Firenze.

The tram line starts at the main train station, next to the historic part of the city; but if you visit note that the tracks right in front of the station are not yet used--you have to walk through the station (or go through the underground mall beneath it) to the side away from the old city.

The cars are a nice, modern, low-floor type.

The line heads out into residential areas; mostly fairly modern, although it did pass this apparent castle.

A scenic part of the line goes through a large park, where there was a (semi-permanent?) carnival going on.

The outer end of the line is at the edge of the city, and quite rustic.

The tracks even go by an old vinyard.

It's a scenic terminus, and modelers would do well to remember that in the classic streetcar era so many of us try to reproduce in miniature, ends-of-lines at the border of city and country were common. It would be an interesting scene for a layout.

On the ride back, I made a practical stop at a less scenic, and very familiar environment, by a strip mall with a large new Coop, an originally Swiss grocery chain expanding into Italy, to pick up components of a makeshift dinner. Can't eat out every night! Some bread, some cheese, salami and grapes from a supermarket makes a pretty meal when it's from a supermarket in Italy.

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Wine Box to Wooden Train Bridge ~ Sunday, June 12, 2011

A few weeks ago I picked up a wooden wine box for a buck or so at a garage sale. I figured it would be a classy container for organizing (train) stuff in the garage.

Inside there were two pieces of wood with round cut-outs for holding wine bottles, like this (adding a bottle from my cabinet for illustrative purposes!):

Stand it on it's edge, and it sure looks like a bridge.

I thought Nathan could use something like that for his wooden trains. Instead of one long bridge, I cut out the middle arch and made two segments like this. (It's all held together with wood glue--if that doesn't hold, I'll add some screws).

This gives us a little more flexibility in arranging elevated track layouts. The "feet" are for stability and to elevate the roadbed up to the level of other bridge pieces we have, which are high enough for trains to go under.

I rummaged through our boxes of wooden tracks and found some straight pieces. They're just long enough to leave a bit of the bridge support exposed for connecting pieces of track to rest on.

Put it all together, and it starts to look like something sure to make Nathan happy--a BART layout.

He seems to be enjoying it.

"Go, BART train, go!"

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Railtown 1897 ~ Saturday, June 11, 2011

I have had the good fortune to have an online friend turn into a real-life one, and one who has a tradition of having birthday parties at railway museums. This year's was at Railtown 1897, on the Sierra Railway, at Jamestown, CA.

Our train was pulled by Sierra Railway No. 3, recently restored, and the star of numerous movie appearances down the decades (people of my generation are most likely to remember Back to the Future Part III).

An interesting feature of this museum is that it is housed in a roundhouse and shop complex in continuous use by the Sierra Ry since it's founding. Shay No. 2 was poking it's nose at one of the doors.

Inside the roundhouse were a few piecces of famous (to railfans and modellers) pieces of equipment that I was familiar with from reading but had no idea still existed. This railbus was used on the Hetch Hetchy Ry, used to build the dam by the same name. This being a project of the City of San Francisco, the bus was built in the Municipal Railway's streetcar shops, and delivered to the SP for shipment to the mountains by simply driving it on streetcar tracks down to the station during the middle of the night!

A sketch of this bus has appeared at the top of the editorial page of the Narrow Gauge & Short Line Gazette for many years.

This combine probably looks familiar to anyone who's ever been a model train shop--it and a companion coach (which I don't know the fate of) are the prototypes of the MDC/Roundhouse 34' "Overton" cars.

These cars were specially built for a particularly twisty branch line, to Angels Camp, CA. Even in 1:1, that car is cute.

A group of antique gas engine restorers had some of there work on display, and one of them had brought this restored forest service truck,

which he happily let kids climb in to "drive", an oppportunity which Nathan did not pass up.

Railtown is on a list of state parks set to close later this year if California is not able to improve its finances. Hopefully it will not come to that, but if you'd like to visit, coming this summer would be prudent. And if you live here, let your representatives know that decimating our park system is not the way to solve our budget problems.

(By coincidence, a few days after I posted this, the July 2011 issue of Rail Model Craftsman arrived in my mailbox, with several articles about the Sierra at Jamestown).

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BART Construction Photos ~ Monday, May 23, 2011

Here is a nice photo article from SFGate/SF Chronicle.

I seem to have been sitting on this post for a while... well I'll push it out now, since the linked-to article is still up (but somehow the Chronicle's web server is confused and makes the article appear to be published in the future).

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Model Model T ~ Sunday, May 01, 2011

Here's a photolog of building a Model T kit from Micron Art (aka µA).

First some prototype research--a local Ford dealership conveniently had a Model T on display (although a more sporty style of one), in a well-lit showroom, which I photographed after hours under cover of darkness:

Now to the N scale version. Here's what you start with, just a brass fret and instructions. US quarter for size comparison. One sheet is actually for two models.

On a tip from a friend, I lightly sanded everything with a fine-grit sandpaper, to help paint stick on (hopefully) without primer. (I just did the right half).

Making a brass model is a lot like making a paper model. You cut out parts and fold them up on dotted lines. Here's the main chassis piece.

Micro-Mark sells an interesting-looking tool called the Etch-Mate for making these folds precisely, but I'm just using a pair of non-tooth pliers (don't want to leave "tooth marks"), itself a slightly unusual item but you can get them in hardware stores (got mine at OSH), and folding things against a hard surface.

Here's the main body piece. The doors are separately applied pieces. So far I'm gluing things with the regular kind of crazy-glue cyanoacrylate (runny) that you can get at any drug store or even supermarket.

The seats are now folded into shape and installed:

One last interior detail is the steering wheel. Next, the instructions suggest that this is a good time to paint the interior, so I did, following their color recommendations. Red leather seats--nice!

Looking at close-up photos like this, I always see little goofs I've made. I guess if I didn't notice them in real life, even with reading glasses, I shouldn't worry too much.

I feel like Godzilla trying to do a detail job on a 1:1 car.

The body is folded up, and the cowling glued on the front. Starting to look like a car. I'm using gel-type superglue, then sanding the corners round.

Next up, finish the hood, put the body and chassis together. I could stop here and call it a retro hot-rod motor sled.

Glue on the roof. If there was anything else I was supposed to put inside, it's too late now :) ... fold up the fenders and glue the radiator onto the front, then bend the front fenders down and glue onto the little arms that stick out from the radiator piece.

The next piece to attach is a combination rear-axle, driveshaft, diagonal frame piece, which goes on the bottom, naturally. There seems to be a mistake in the instructions here. They show a fold between the axle and the rear support springs, keeping the axle bit horizontal; I think you should really keep the axle bit vertical and fold at the joint between the axle and the driveshaft and diagonals. The instructions do caution you to make sure the axle is positioned so that the rear wheels won't scrape the fenders, and doing it the way I'm suggesting gives them much better clearance.

This also puts the rear axles on the same level as the front axles, as you can see below, which should make the whole car sit levelly when the wheels are on.

I did not figure this out immediately. The instructions include the helpful advice that you can unglue CA/superglue with acetone (nail polish remover), which proved true, although I messed up this delicate piece in the process. As I noted, you actually get parts for two cars from the kit, so I cannibalized from the other half. I'll figure out what to do for the other one when I get there (but perhaps the point of the double kit is not so much than anyone builds two, as an acknowledgment that few modelers are likely to complete the kit without breaking or loosing at least one tiny part).

At this point the model is almost ready to paint. But there was a hole between the running boards, front fenders, and nose of the car that isn't there on actual model T's. Can't blame the kit for this--it's just a limitation of what you can make out a folded sheet of brass. I decided to fill it with Microscale Micro Krystal Klear; I don't care that about it being transparent (it'll be painted over, anyway), but it's good for filling little gaps.

Time to start painting. Of course it's black! For models this small, I brush-paint. It took several passes to make sure every obscure corner was covered--I actually found a lot of places that needed touching up by taking pictures and looking at them on my computer.

One thing I learned the hard way, too late to fix it for this model, is that blobs of glue, which aren't very visible before painting, since they're transparent, show up as obvious blobs afterwards. Next time I'll make sure to sand them down first.

Here I'm using Micro Krystal Klear for it's intended purpose, window glazing--also a dab on each of the headlights.

It looks like glass when it dries.

Per the kit's recommendations, I painted the wheel spokes brown, and the tires light gray. I've never seen light gray tires, except maybe on a bike, but perhaps this is an area where even vintage car restorers choose modern, safer materials over authenticity.

The instructions recommend painting the wheels and tires while they are still on the frets, and I think that's probably a good idea, but sometimes I forget to read instructions.

Put the wheels on the axles, add the tiny round nuts (the instructions say that's optional, but I didn't come this far to skimp on the last detail--also I figure they really will help keep the wheels on), done!

Fill'er up!

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