Monday, June 27, 2011

Other Vasona Branch Links

For those of you visiting from the NMRA's X2011 convention website, be aware that there's more about the Vasona Branch than just this blog. To learn more about my model railroad, check out the main Vasona Branch website, the track plan (in case you're operating on the layout this weekend), and my other model railroad pages, including details on my San Jose Market Street station page.

Hope to see y'all at the X2011 convention!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's My Own Fault

Handy Dimensions Pro Tip:

1) Make sure the distance between girders on your benchwork is wider than the length of your cordless drill.

2) Double-check that any tunnels or obstacles above benchwork are taller than your tallest rolling stock.

3) Ensure the separation between levels in a multi-deck layout is larger than the paintbrush you use for ballasting.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Scenery's Going In at Vasona Junction!

The Vasona Junction scene is a bear to photograph because of the low upper deck, the narrowness of the scene, the curved location, and the holes through the backdrop for the tail of the Vasona Junction wye. While I can model prototype scenes, trying to model prototype scene *locations* is near impossible because of the location of the backdrop.

At least I solved the light problem - while I was at our local Fry's Electronics, I found that they had LED light sticks intended for lighting tricked-out PC cases. For $6, I had a 12" plexiglass tube with 19 LEDs inside, ready to be powered from the same 12 volt source that powers the Tortoises. The color of the LEDs doesn't quite match the warm white fluorescent strip fixtures I normally use to light the lower deck, but there's so little room at Vasona Junction that any tiny fixture is an improvement.

Here's a few photos showing Vasona Junction:

Winchester Road and orchards.

Vasona Junction station sign at the Los Gatos end of the wye. The trees in the back are Woodland Scenics "Fine-leaf foilage".

Winchester Road, the Los Gatos - Cupertino wye leg, and the Los Gatos - Campbell leg in the foreground. The semaphore is a non-operating plastic kit because the staging tracks underneath won't permit a semaphore mechanism.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Long Grass: What Works, What Doesn't

Modeling California scenes without tall grass is like modeling Pittburgh without steel mills. Getting that tall grass right has been one of the challenges for me as long as I've been modeling California scenes, and I'm still not sure I can get the look right.

California didn't always look like this, of course. The original California grasslands had a mix of various native and tall grasses that didn't die off in the summer and produced lots of seeds for the animals and the original California Indians. The tall golden grasses are actually invaders that came with the Europeans, and have taken over most of the state. Each of the common grasses is well-known to any schoolkid who learned which could be stripped of seed pods when walking by, which were scratchy, and which could be thrown at other kids.

I've tried several different approaches to modeling tall grass - fine and coarse yellow ground foam (mostly AMSI's #42 ochre and #52 aspen gold, much better than Woodland Scenics' much-too-pale burnt grass), static grass (nice but sparse), fake hair to put in drilled holes, and (best so far) self-adhesive Silflor grass tufts that are great for detailing a scene.

Vasona Junction, however, is the first location where I'm trying out the Silflor grass mats. Silflor mats are static grass applied to a backing; in my case, I'm using the California Golden Grass mat which uses 6.5 mm fiber. This is one of the taller grasses in the Silflor line; they also make mats with fibers as short as 2mm and as tall as 8mm.

Yesterday, I commented that the grass and mat seemed awful high and hard to disguise; here's some close-ups of the Silflor mats (both with an undisguised edge and with 6mm Silflor grass tufts applied along the edges) compared to Silflor's static grass glued straight to the plaster.

First, here's a photo looking down on the Silflor mat at Vasona Junction. The mat looks great, but notice the grass is close to six feet high near the figure. The grass to the left uses the Silflor grass tufts to hide the edge; the 6 mm tufts are noticeably shorter than the mat, so I took some shears to the edges to disguise the change in material. I really love the opacity of the Silflor mat; none of the ground below can be seen, and it looks like a full pasture covered in grass.

This photo shows the same scene in side view. Again, nice and opaque, but the grasses seem awfully tall. Most of the effect of the grasses really comes at the edges where the individual grass blades are visible against the backdrop, suggesting that the edges of the grassy area are more important than the middle.

Here's another pair of photos, this time showing the static grass I installed at Alma last year. This first photo shows the side view of the static grass with the Silflor grass tufts dressing up the area near the retaining wall. Notice that the tufts now tower over the rest of the scene, and the static grass looks a foot or two high - perhaps a bit short, but not burying the scene.

Finally, here's a photo looking down at the scene. This starts showing the drawback of the static grasses - it looks very sparse when viewed from above. The extra yellow here comes from yellow ground foam added to the scene before the static grass was applied, and keeps the grass from disappearing against the brown soil. (That soil is sifted dirt from the worst corner of my backyard. Because my backyard is downhill from all the scenes here, the dirt color is about as realistic as can be.)

The photos on the layout might not hint at the actual thickness of the Silflor sheets. Here's a nice photo from my shelf layout showing two pieces of Silflor. The flower bed on the left is a bit of the shorter Silflor mat from one of the Silflor sample kits; the material on the right is the 6.5 mm California Golden Grass mat. The golden grass is noticeably thicker than the shorter mat, so some of my complaints about the California Golden Grass may be specific to that particular product.

Which look do you prefer, or what's your favorite approach for modeling California dry grasses?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Progress on Vasona Junction

Back in January, I made my to-do list of big, risky, time-consuming projects I hoped to do this year.

Some haven't gotten anywhere, such as building Ainsley Cannery.

Others have only gotten to the planning stages, with the revamped sidings in Campbell only getting as far as buying new switches, and the Moody Gulch oil wells only getting as far as research. It's been good research, though. Early California Oil gave me a few details on Moody Gulch, and gave me a much better understanding of the oil boom in Coalinga, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, and Long Beach; I don't think I realized how big a deal each of these oil booms were, and just how much they changed each area. Crude Politics, which I'm only partly through, highlights how the style of the boom was affected by land issues. While Coalinga and the Elk Hills fields were methodically pumped out, the multiple owners of oil in Los Angeles and Long Beach meant that every residential lot dweller dug a well and started pumping as fast as possible in order to get their share of the oil wealth, resulting in poorer fields and worse prices as the fields were overpumped and glutted the market.

Luckily, some of the projects have had real progress. I spent this weekend wiring two new light fixtures for the garage, and the scenery in Vasona Junction is starting to take shape.

First, the light fixtures: I knew the garage was dark, so adding new lights and repositioning others was primarily to improve visibility for operators. I was a bit worried about pulling down the 1960's era large fluorescent fixtures and getting new fixtures up without crushing the layout, but had no mishaps at all. (Whew!). The new lights also make the garage more homey for me. My biggest problem is that I tended to build scenery in the past where the light was good, and now that the light has shifted, attention tends to aim at different spots… with inferior scenery. Time to build out some ignored locations.

Vasona Junction is making good progress; the backdrop is in, along with rough scenery, dirt, signal equipment, and the beginnings of an orchard. To decorate the scene with the obvious signal hardware, I'm using American Limited Models semaphore kits. These don't move, but they look nice, and I unfortunately don't have space under Vasona Junction for the mechanisms. A pair of their wig-wag grade crossing signals protects Winchester Road, and assorted signal equipment castings from Tomar/Alexander Scale Models provide battery boxes and a remote signal indicator on the Campbell - Cupertino branch of the wye ensures maintenance crews only move their speeder when the track is unoccupied.

I'm also trying the Silflor sheets of tall grass. I'd already used their static grass in the past, but found that while the rolled sheets look denser and better from above, the sheets are much thicker than the static grass, and I'm having trouble hiding the edges. I'm currently using some of the grass tufts, but the height difference is still annoying. I'm still plugging along, though; I'm hoping it'll all start pulling together as a scene more as it gets closer to completion.