Sunday, March 14, 2010

Next Project

I've actually got two projects to do next (besides fix the signals):

* As I mentioned in the last blog entry, I'm thinking of placing an abandoned farm between Alma and Wrights. Good for the period, but it'll get rid of the last bit of empty, unoccupied space... and I might want to remind viewers they're looking at a desolate canyon.

* All the nice photos face uphill towards Wrights because the sky disappears in the other direction. (That's really a shame, as I really like this photo of the station and the hillside.) I've got backdrop material to finish the backdrop here, and then I need to start putting scenery on the bare styrafoam at the other end of the Alma siding.

That second idea will need me to make some uncomfortable choices. The tracks curve onto a shelf built behind Los Gatos and over the staging tracks; I've been hesitant to put in scenery here, partially because I wasn't sure what to do, and partially because I'm going to find it really hard to maintain the tracks underneath once the scenery goes in. So if this really is a five-year or ten-year layout, what are the odds I'll need easy access to those tracks, or can I be enough of a contortionist to twist under the benchworks to clean the tracks?

It's also exciting for me at the same time; Alma's been a very unloved point on the railroad, but this month's scenery has been coming out wonderfully and makes the spot eye-catching. Before the scenery, it was just a siding on a shelf. Once the scenery went in, it became very easy to imagine what's really happening--a train pulling aside on train orders, a fast passenger blowing through town without stopping. Just running trains through here for the photos has been great fun. It'll be interesting to see how the other half of the siding turns out when scenery goes in.

More Photos of Alma

This weekend's big project was getting the signals running in Alma; by the end of the weekend, the semaphores are moving, but I'm still having problems getting yellow indications to show. Although I blogged about my last problems with the signals last time, I didn't write down enough to help me track down what's going on here. No matter - I've got the signal board nested underneath the upper deck, and they're moving, and that's success enough today.

The Alma scene's looking great to my eye. I love the tall grass, and the cut into the hillside, and the Station. Compared with my original plan a month ago, I'm doing pretty good. I still need to finish detailing the station, and add the MOW boxcar I saw in one old photo. I've also got an idea for the next stretch of scenery between here and Wrights: an abandoned farm, with an orchard disappearing into the weeds and an abandoned building. The early 30's were a hard time for farmers in the Santa Clara Valley, with fruit prices dropping. Modeling some of that fallout might be good.

Here's a couple pictures of the actual Alma station, the first from the Preston Sawyer collection at UCSC (and published in the original South Pacific Coast book) dating from 1950, just before the valley was flooded for Lexington Reservoir. The second was taken by Norman Holmes around 1944, and is from Prune County Railroading. Comparing the real photos to the photos of my model, I still need to add some gingerbread trim at the roof peak, add drainpipes, and that very obvious hose bib centered on the end wall. I also still need to add fascia boards along the edge of the roof and smokejacks. I still have a few nice evening projects before I'll be finished.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Being able to dive into small projects.

Yesterday's entry mentioned that I still needed to install the semaphore signals at the far end of the Alma siding. The existing signals are LEDs covered with hot glue - not the most prototypical, but cheap and easy to build. My only problem was that there wasn't really room for both semaphores; although I'd cut a notch into the hill for the downhill signal, there really wasn't enough space for the signal and assorted signal machinery details. That spot also happened to be right under one of the joists, and didn't have room for the real machinery under the layout to move the semaphore.

So instead, I took a utility knife to that nice hillside I made last weekend, and cut out addtional space. Here's the photo of the area right after I finished. I'll admit I worried this was going to be one of those model projects that took a reasonable accomplishment and messed it up. But I wanted those signals, and I wanted the signals in each direction to be across the tracks from each other as they were on the prototype.

Here's the after shot. Now, the key detail is that this photo was taken about 6 hours after the previous one; in fact, the little mound of ballast for the signal didn't really bond this time, so I dripped more matte medium on it right after I took the photo.

Rebuilding the scene went quickly because I had all the supplies still out - the sifted dirt for the base layer, the pinkish sand for the gritty sides of the cut, the box full of oak-like trees I made last winter. More importantly, I've been keeping a jar full of diluted matte medium around with an eyedropper always included, so it was really easy for me to take the rough Sculptamold scenery, cover it with brown paint, then sift on the various dirts and install the trees. The matte medium was particularly handy because I saw later in the afternoon that some of the track wasn't fully buried in the ballast or dirt, and so could quickly dump a bit of dirt on the tracks, spray it with the water sprayer, then soak it with matte medium for bonding. That's half the work of getting scenes built - having some of the supplies on-hand so that making little bits of touch-up like this can be done in ten minute in between other jobs (or in between household chores) rather than requiring an afternoon to get all the tools out.

The other cool project for the scene were the telephone poles. These are the Rix telegraph pole kits; I pulled out the kit package last night, glued on the crossarms, then sprayed them with dullcoat and gray paint this morning. The metal arm supports got a touch of color with a Floquil rust paint marker I've been using for the tracks, and the insulators got whichever color of green was handy in the paint box. I cut down a few of the poles for that short-pole look often seen in period photos.

Anyway, hopefully I can get to the signals in the next week or two; I'll need to install the servos for controlling the semaphore arms and set up the electronics for controlling them; the only hard part is where to stash the electronics so the wire runs aren't too long. The servos are temperamental, and long wires can cause them to not work at all.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

More Alma Progress

The Google Earth backdrop got reprinted in yellower colors (to be a bit closer match to the existing backdrop further on), so I glued that on with some Spray-mount (well, Super 77 contact cement). Once the backdrop was in, I added some backdrop oak trees I'd made last year from Supertrees. The scene's looking pretty great to my eye. The yellow static flock and Silflor grass tufts really make the scene look like a typical summer in California. The tufts are lots of fun; although they're pricey (around $25 for about 12" square) they're actually cheap fun because they're easy to add to a scene, suck up a lot of time as you figure where taller grass can appear, and do a great job of carrying grass out to the edge of the benchwork. I've found the tufts to be much more useful than the Silflor grass sheets.

This shot shows off the sandy banks well. I worried they wouldn't look right with the darker soil I use, but the different texture (and darker color bleeding through) makes it work. It's too bad I didn't have room for explicit drainage ditches on the far side of the tracks. I used some of the Silflor bunch grass along the edge of the cut to make the grass look thinner. Next step: replace the hot glue signals with some moving semaphores.

For the time I model, Alma was at best a flag stop; it had lost its agent years before, and one of the history articles I read said that the station became the area's community center by 1940. Trains weren't stopping in Alma. The crossing under the photographer's feet would be the original (1915?) Santa Cruz Highway; by 1932, the state had built a new highway up the center of the valley, off to our right across the creek about a half mile away. The local water district was furious because they'd been planning on building what would become Lexington Reservoir, but the state wasn't willing to move the highway. When the dam and lake were finally approved in the late 1940's, the courts heard about Caltrans's intransigence, and forced them to pay for a good portion of moving their "new" highway out of the way of the dam.