Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lingering Projects

Model railroading stays as my primary hobby because the hobby morphs to be whatever I need it to be at the time. If I want to be social, I'll do model railroad operations. If I feel like reading about the history of California, I do that. When I have the urge to create, I've got that too. The diversity of the hobby--whether it's the range of construction techniques (wood, plastic, metal; mocking up, building with care, painting), history, planning, or socializing--gives me a fun outlet that matches whatever my current mood is.

The drawback of all this is that it's really easy to pile up half-finished projects. There's usually a few projects sitting around that either got half-done and placed on the layout, or partially-built kits sitting on my workbench, or materials and kits sitting in the closet waiting for me to start them. That's not unique to model railroading; my wife knits and weaves (among a bunch of other craft hobbies), and t-shirts with the slogan "she who dies with the most yarn wins" suggests that fiber arts hobbyists are just as bad as piling up potential and half-finished projects as anyone else.

I hadn't done any model building recently, so I decided to go after some lingering projects on Saturday morning. I started with a freight car model that's been half-built, but I found the assembly frustrating, so I ended up turning to a model I've been building for at least a year - the Campbell S.P. station. As I picked up the kit again, I reflected a bit on why I'd given up on building it previous times.

Campbell's a major scene on my layout; it was a small farming town with multiple canneries, a bank, and a movie theater. There were times it must have been a busy place, but all the pictures I've seen of the railroad station shows it quiet and sleepy. Being the railroad agent must have been a slow job.

The station itself has some memorable features. It was originally built in the 1880's by the South Pacific Coast narrow gauge railroad that went over the hills to Santa Cruz. Like many railroad stations of the time, it was built in the Eastlake or Stick style, with lots of wood and machine-produced trim. Because it wasn't built by its later owner, the Southern Pacific railroad, it isn't an exact match for any of SP's "standard" depots, and has a bunch of interesting features - elaborate wood bracing on the baggage doors, gables above the station agent's office, and elaborate wood trim in a few locations.

When I started the Campbell station, I wasn't sure how to approach the model. I could build the entire station from scratch, but I was looking for shortcuts. American Model Builders does make a really nice kit for SP's "type 23 depot". The AMB kit is about the same size as the Campbell station, and had a lot of detail that I wasn't sure I could scratchbuild well. I'd also been interested in trying one of their kits. When I saw one of the kits at the hobby shop, I bought it as a starting point.

The Campbell station's hit a few roadblocks during its construction. First, I had to figure out how to "kitbash" the AMB kit to a floorplan closer to the Campbell station. I remember photocopying the laser-cut pieces for the AMB kit, and trying to figure out how to re-shuffle them to have the same configuration as the Campbell depot. I also found the Campbell depot had eight more windows than the kit, so I had to go poking around for window castings that would look appropriate on the model. It took a bit of courage to start cutting and rearranging the walls, but I managed to do it. There was another hitch when I realized the walls weren't turning out to match the station, and so I ripped some of the work apart, got the walls rejuggled, and... put the kit back on the shelf.

Then, last year, I finally assembled the walls together, and started looking at the roof. The roof's a mix of angles, with gables going off in all four directions. The roof was intended to be glued on (sealing the interior), so I spent some time putting clear glass in the windows, painting the interior walls black so they weren't noticeable, and cutting wood to form the roof.

Then I sat on the project. Assembling the roof was going to involve some tedious cutting and fitting, and I wasn't completely happy with how everything was coming together. I eventually got frustrated, put the half-built kit on the layout to keep it out of harm's way, and moved on to other projects.

Til this weekend.

I don't know what got my back onto this kit - perhaps guilt at having it sitting around so long. I'm also at the point where I could start adding dirt and scenery at Campbell, so having the complete station ready to drop into the scene would encourage me to start putting in terrain and dirt. Or maybe I just needed a way to fill a few hours. In any case, while waiting for my wife's plane to arrive, I finished the glazing, took a deep breath, and started gluing the roof on. It came out ok - though there's some not-quite-level lines that I'm not happy with, but I'll live with. The progress on the roof kept me fired up, and I spent part of Sunday gluing on the simulated shingles, then painting the roof green as it would have been in real life.

The picture shows the station as it is tonight. I still need to put fascia along the edge of the roof, clean up the painting, and start adding details, but this weekend's work made a huge difference; even if it was only a few hours of work, it still got me excited about finishing the model once and for all. I'm now poring over the old pictures to capture little details--a ladder hung on an end wall, a shaded lamp above a doorway, and chimneys on the roof.

We'll see if this weekend's progress gets me excited to finish the station completely. Although some of my projects get put away because I got frustrated or stuck, others just get forgotten about; I don't remember what's half-built, or what particular snag caused me to stop. For this kit, I made a point tonight of writing my "to-do" list of the work still to be done. I've also kept big lists of ongoing projects so that I can quickly figure out something to do when I've got time. My current lists are a bit out of date, so maybe it's time to make a new "what to do when I'm bored" list.