Thursday, March 10, 2016

3D Printing Trackside Details

3d printing is really fun for filling out a scene; if I spot something interesting in a prototype photo, it's not too difficult to turn that detail into something physical and on the layout. Here's two tiny examples.

This first item is a Southern Pacific luggage cart. I'd certainly seen the baggage wagons in old pictures, but I'd never seen a model like this. I found this cart in an old Model Railroader construction article from the 1990's. That article suggested how to solder the cart together from wire, but it wasn't too bad to model in 3d. My biggest challenge was figuring out how to support the cart while printing, and then how to carefully cut that support structure off afterwards. It's not the cleanest model, but it looks great in the station clutter at my San Jose Market Street station scene. I also liked adding in luggage directly onto the model, giving me one less bit of assembly to do.

This second model is a dwarf semaphore. Again, it came from an unlikely source; a local railroad history magazine (the California Trolley and Rail Corporation's June 1998 Clearboard) had a picture of a 1932 exhibition trip for the London, Midland, and Scottish's "Royal Scot" locomotive as it passed through San Jose. That photo shows the Fourth Street tower, the tracks approaching the station, and a bunch of other detail along the right of way.

My eye immediately noticed a few small dwarf signals protecting the main line track down Fourth Street and towards San Jose. Those little signals were both cute and prototypical for my Market Street shelf layout. I did a few Google searches to try to identify a manufacturer, and I'm guessing the dwarf was a General Railway Signal product. A bit more work, and I'd sketched out a decent signal for my shelf layout.

(Ooops, just noticed that I got distracted during my research, and ended up making a model of one of the dwarf signals I'd seen on a semaphores site, rather than the neat upper-quadrant semaphore shown in the photo. That was silly. I suspect the inaccurate semaphore's going on the layout anyway.)

Now, making each of these models wasn't exactly trivial; the angles and curves on each meant the computer model alone took a couple hours. I also certainly could have done these models with traditional materials such as styrene and card stock. However, for an active layout, quickly drawing and printing details lets me quickly add all the clutter that is in realistic scenes. Better yet, it's easy to make new ones. If one of my operators accidentally bashes a model, all I need to do is print and paint a new copy.

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