Sunday, May 24, 2009

Three Stations

The Campbell station's nearly done, with only a few details left to touch-up. My next step (though it may take a while to get there) is to landscape the area where the station will sit. I'll need to add the ground, weeds, tracks for the interurban, posts to keep cars from parking too close to the building, garbage and debris (people were slobs in the 1930's, too?), and whatever makes the scene realistic.

Still, the station's detailed enough for me to declare it complete, and move on. That's the good and bad side of the hobby; it's easy to say "it's good enough" and find another project, and then five years later maybe pick up the model again to touch up paint, or add some additional details on the exterior (like rain gutters on the back side?). If the model's never really done, can I say I'm making progress?

Just as a reminder of progress, I realized this was the third station I've built to match a Southern Pacific prototype.

I built the first (now Wrights station) back in grad school when my hobby budget was exactly $30/month, and that was being spendthrift. I remember being so careful in the hobby shop to pick just the materials I'd need for that month's projects. I scratchbuilt the station from styrene, basing it on a pencil sketch of the Agnews depot in the "Valley of Santa Clara" list of historical structures around San Jose. I messed up on scale and length there, but luckily all the South Pacific Coast details in that model matched what was available at Wrights. I modeled wainscoting and plaster walls on the inside, and added the decorative roof support details on the exterior, but I never found windows to fit the scratchbuilt openings I framed, so the window openings are still empty. I might have borrowed a Santa Clara Valley prototype, but its first location was on a shelf layout in imaginary central California. I'm glad it's found an appropriate home.

(On the subject of Wrights, check out these great photos of the tunnel at Wrights as seen in February 2009!)

The second SP station was the huge San Jose Market Street station that was the main station until 1935. I built this model for a
shelf layout
I keep in the house.
This was another scratchbuilt model, again out of styrene, and I remember just being amazed at how large the model was compared to anything I've done in the past. It's 24 inches long, and has a ton of doors and windows. I also learned about painting fixtures here; I created a little mask out of strip styrene to spray paint the white sashes on the window castings. This model's mostly complete, but it got to the point of looking decent a few years ago, and has never quite been finished. For a while, the interior was the blocking issue, but I added minimal detail a while back. The shelter at the entrance still needs to be attached. Most importantly, the huge barn that covered all the tracks of the station still needs to be built. I'll get to it one of these days... if building that seems fun.

And the last station is the Campbell station I've already written about. Here's the latest picture with rain gutters and signs installed. It's been a change from the previous model. I kitbashed this model from a laser kit, constructed from wood and paper rather than plastic.
It has more details like the wood screen in the front gable and wooden corbels holding up the roof. I also was able to duplicate the fanciful bracing on the baggage door.

These three models cover fifteen years of modeling, and fifteen years of consciously or unconsciously sticking to a theme of stations in the Santa Clara Valley. All three, also, represent building from photos. Although the Wrights station was only based on one sketch, I've added other details based on photos of the Wrights depot from books. The SP Market Street Station was my first serious effort to do some research on the station from Sanborn maps, then use old photos and postcards to figure out the arrangement of the structure. The Campbell station is probably the first where I've explicitly marked up photos to figure out what exact details to add.

More importantly, none of the stations is quite done, but they're all complete enough for me to be able to say "yes, I've made progress". (Looking at all three together also reminds me I never painted the Wrights station roof green; the original roofs were all stained shake shingles.) All three stations are also reminders of what I've done in the hobby in the past, and of the time in my life when I was building each one.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

All the fascia and roof supports are installed on my model of the Campbell (California) depot, and the dock assembly has been glued onto the station. Now I just need to finish details - assorted clutter on and around the station, signs, and other details.

To get some ideas about what to add, I took a photo of the model and compared it to photos of the actual depot in the 1930's. So far (except for some crooked walls and broken windows), it looks pretty good. A closer look at some power lines near the station showed that the back side of the station had the old San Jose and Los Gatos (aka Peninsular Railway) interurban train tracks. This was a streetcar-like railway that ran from San Jose to Los Gatos, Saratoga, and eventually all the way to Cupertino and Palo Alto. The trains used to head west out of San Jose, wind through the Willow Glen neighborhood, and cut through the orchards to Campbell. There's space behind my station for the tracks; now I just need to figure out how to model them (and the trolley wire), and figure out how to make it all removable for operations.

Looks like some heavy planning to do.

I needed a break from the structure-building, so I ended up turning back to the signals. I've installed semaphore signals along the upper deck of the railroad (just like the prototype), but getting them work smoothly has been a challenge. At first, I used Tortoise switch machines with a homemade plastic crank to move the control wire that raises and lowers the semaphore arm, but found that getting the arm travel correct was a ton of work. Next, I used some of Circuitron's signal actuators for Tortoises; those work better, but only work for two indication (red/green signals). If I want to get a yellow signal from these (indicating that the train should expect the next signal will be red), I either needed some fancy electronics or I needed to hire some gnomes to sit under the layout and move the signals as needed. The Tortoises are also a bit big; they're great for switches, but when I have two signals located across the track from each other, the actuators under the layout get in the way of each other and make adjustments difficult.

Luckily, I saw that Team Digital was selling a new circuit that will control signals using model airplane servos, and also correctly handles three indication signals. I spent a good part of Saturday in a very hot garage ripping out the old signal machinery and replacing it with the new servos. The servos are amazingly tiny; the picture shows one next to a Tortoise controlling a switch.

So, easy installation for the first two semaphores, and I'm just waiting for the mailman to arrive with a couple more signals so I can get another two signals working. There's still lots to do; the photo of the current setup shows what the layout can look like when I'm still trying to test new electronics.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I ought to build some more kits!

I'm still making progress on the Campbell station. This weekend's project was adding the corbels or roof brackets that support the fascia, and making the lath screen above the operator's bay. See the attached pictures.

Most of the structures I've built over the last few years have been scratchbuilt. I had an idea or picture of the building I wanted, and I used only generic parts - window castings, plastic shaped to look like clapboard siding, stripwood, and wood sheet -- to try to reproduce that building. By scratchbuilding, I get to build exactly the building I want. As I've complained elsewhere, many commercial building kits don't look like they belong in California or the small Santa Clara Valley towns I model. I also get to think about the design of buildings and fitting each to the space I have, giving me a bit more of a challenge and more work to build the model.

Now, most model kits aren't that much of a challenge. There's plastic kits that could be assembled by "shaking the box". There's also wood structure kits that give you a set of rough plans and a box of the same parts you'd use when scratchbuilding, and turn you loose to build the model neatly with none of the fun of designing the building. Kits like that have kept me scratchbuilding (though I'll occasionally use such a kit for raw materials or as a starting point for other work).

Building the triangular roof supports, though, reminded me of what a good kit can provide. I'd gotten e-mail a couple weeks ago about a craftsman house model I have on a shelf layout; the sender wanted to buy the kit, but couldn't find it. (That's not surprising; the manufacturer only built those kits for maybe a year, and disappeared soon after. It's not surprising the kit would be hard to find 15 years later. The kit is the Timberline Scale Models "354 Juniper Street" kit for those who care.) I couldn't help the sender with the kit, but I did find the old instructions and sent off a copy.

Looking at those instructions reminded me how a kit can be useful when it teaches me skills. The kit instructions have you build the roof supports from stripwood using a technique I'd never seen before. First, you cut the diagonal piece from a template. Next, you use a credit card to square off a pair of long pieces of stripwood, and glue the diagonal piece in place between the two. Finally, you cut the glued piece off the longer pieces, and you're done!

It's a neat technique, and I'd forgotten about it til I photocopied the instructions. The brackets came together perfectly, and you can see them applied to the model in the original photo. I learned other techniques from that kit - using white glue and gesso to simulate stucco, using multiple contrasting colors on windows and window frames, adding rafter ends to super-detail a model, etc. It's a good example of why kits are useful, even for folks like me who think they know what they're doing. Supposedly, Fine Scale Miniatures kits were also good places to learn model techniques because of the details about weathering.

I'm also grateful to whichever kit taught me to use double-stick tape to hold down parts. I used that trick to build the lathwork strips hanging above the operator's bay. In that case, I laid out the strips on top of the tape (pressing my finger to the tape to remove some of its stickiness.) I then glued the cross-boards across all the strips, and glued some more on areas that would be cut away after the glue dried to hold everything together. After 20 or so minutes, I pulled the assembly off the tape, cut the whole piece to fit in the roof gable, then painted and installed the lathwork. I always have double-stick tape in my desk drawer for modeling - it's an essential now. It's a much nicer technique than the old-fashioned glue-on-wax paper approach.